Monday, December 29, 2014

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Tips for Purchase

Compact fluorescent light bulbs can save you quite a bit of money on your electric bill, provided you can get the bulbs at a good price. Here are some tips to take into account when you consider replacing your standard incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs.

1. Physical fit. A critical consideration when planning to replace traditional incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) is the physical space available in the light fixture. Many of the newer CFL bulbs are small enough to fit into the same space as the bulbs they replace. Some of the older CFLs were substantially larger and would not fit into closed fixtures.

2. Light output. The amount of light output or brightness of a bulb is measured in lumens. A 60-watt incandescent bulb might put out about 900 lumens, while a CFL of 13 watts might also put out 900 lumens and a 14 watt might deliver 970 lumens. The CFL package will contain a large "60-watt" label (or if the manufacturer is more honest, "60-watt equivalent"). Those wattages are just for reference--if you used a 60-watt incandescent, then this is the bulb for you (at 13 or 14 watts).

3. Color. Light, even what we think of as white light, has a range of whiteness to it, indicated as a color temperature. The standard, soft white light we usually see inside the home, lit with ordinary incandescent bulbs, is 2700 degrees Kelvin. Daylight bulbs, which seek to reproduce the color of bright sunlight, have color temperatures of 5000 to 6500 degrees Kelvin. If you are considering changing your standard incandescents to CFLs, then I suggest you choose 2700-degree bulbs. If you have an at-home office, and you want the relatively harsh, bright light of noonday sun, then choose the bulbs labeled "daylight" at 5000, 5500, or 6500 degrees.

4. Instant On. Early CFLs, when turned on, started out rather dim and required a few minutes to achieve full brightness. This becomes an irritation after awhile. My recommendation is that you make sure the label on the box says "Instant On" or don't buy the bulb. The only exception would be for bulbs you plan to leave on all the time or run from dusk to dawn, such as porch lights.

5. Radio Interference. CFLs tend to generate radio interference. When I pull into my garage, which has two CFLs in the garage door opener, my AM radio program is drowned out by static. Consider this effect when planning your replacements or installations.

6. Cost and Savings. The length of life listed on the box (7 years, 9 years, etc.) is mostly bogus, based on leaving the bulbs on all the time. Turning the light on and off frequently tends to shorten their life. If you make a dozen trips a day to the closet, pantry, bathroom, etc. and each time turn the light on and then off, you might get 3 or 4 years from the CFL. The cost of CFLs varies widely. I've seen essentially the same 60-watt equivalent CFLs on sale for $4.88 for four ($1.22 each ) and at another store $12.98 for five ($2.59 each). Some electric utilities offer CFLs at subsidized rates, so check with your utility and hardware stores.

7. Disposal. Because fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a toxic metal that must be kept out of groundwater, the bulbs should not be put in ordinary trash after they fail. Fluorescent bulbs should be taken to your nearest hazardous waste facility.

8. Startup Tip. When you install a brand new CFL, turn it on and leave it on for 30 minutes or so. You'll notice that even instant-on bulbs don't fully light the phosphors all the way through the tubing in the bulb. But after burning them in for 30 minutes or so, the bulbs will be ready to start fully bright each time you turn them on in the future (unlike the old, non-instant-on bulbs).

Compact fluorescent bulbs offer some advantages over the incandescent bulbs they replace. You can leave a bulb on as a night light because the wattage is so low. I have a nightlight that uses a 7-watt CFL bulb and it lights the entire room. CFLs last longer that incandescents, so if you have some difficult-to-change areas (such as high ceilings), then you can reduce the hassle with CFLs.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Drywall Screw Bits Review: Milwaukee, Dewalt, Warrior (Harbor Freight), and Grabber

IF you ever drive or try to remove long screws, you are probably familiar with cam out--that slipping of the bit that results when the bit loses grip in the screw head and spins around while the screw doesn't move. You might also be familiar with your Phillips bits breaking or rounding off as  you use them. I wanted to see which was the best Phillips #2 bit for driving so-called drywall screws, because those are the screws I use for most projects.

Drill bits tested:
Milwaukee Shockwave Impact Duty #2 Phillips Power Bits, item 48-32-4602 (package of 5 bits 2 inches long).
DeWalt Max Fit #2 Power Bits, item DWA2PH2-5 (package of 5 bits 2 inches long)
Warrior #2 Drill Bits (Harbor Freight 68462) 2 inches long, pack of 10
Grabber #2 reduced Phillips, 1 inch long

I tried driving a three-inch drywall screw into one by three stud lumber. Then I tried backing out the screw.

Here are the results:
Cam out while driving in was moderate with all bits, highest with Milwaukee, lowest with Grabber.
Cam out while extracting was moderate with all bits, highest with Milwaukee, lowest with Grabber.
Durability was highest with DeWalt, Milwaukee, and Grabber, lowest with Warrior.

For driving or removing drywall screws, I recommend the reduced Phillips #2, such as the one by Grabber. The special smaller head seems to fit better and work better than the regular or  full-size #2 Phillips.
The Warrior tips break under load and after some little use. They cost half the price, but the overall performance reflects that.

On the rack at Home Depot or Lowe's, the displays feature many regular #2 Phillips. Look around to find the reduced diameter #2. Or you can buy a box of Grabber drywall screws and get a bit free inside the box.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Plumbing Snake Review, Harbor Freight #66262

In keeping with the rule of life that things go wrong at the absolute worst time, the kitchen sink backed up at the house of the hostess for a Thanksgiving celebration and feast right on Thanksgiving day. I brought my home-invented hydro-jet "snake" and shoved it into the pipe. It is connected to a garden hose, so when the sprayer handle is pulled, a jet of water (theoretically) blasts through the clog. I have cleared the clog in my  bathroom drain several times with this invention.

 Unfortunately, at the Thanksgiving house, either the pipe curved in such a way that the rubber hose snake wouldn't turn properly, or else it hit an impenetrable plug. As a result the hose could be pushed into the drain pipe only a couple of feet and the water from the water jet soon backed out into a tub waiting for it, The clog still remained.

The homeowner had tried using a drain cleaner before, and I tried with two more products, "guaranteed satisfaction," but neither worked a bit, even after waiting over night.

So, on my way back to the house, I stopped by Harbor Freight and picked up a rotating snake, described by HF as "25-foot drain cleaner with drill attachment." HF part number 66262. At the house, the water was still standing in the sink, showing that water was not even slowly seeping down the drain--the plug was solid.

I removed the P-trap and ran the snake into the pipe until it hit a blockage. I then connected my power drill and slowly rotated the snake. Right away, the snake made progress and moved into the pipe. I fed another six or eight inches of snake, rotated again, fed snake, rotated, and so on. When I had fed about  15 feet of snake into the drain pipe, I pulled it all back out. There was no big hairball or other massive item on the auger, just a plug of black goo.I reconnected the P-trap and turned on the  hot water, slowly. It kept draining, no back up. So I turned on the hot water full flow and let it run for a long time.

Ten minutes of auguring beat a couple of hours of trying to water blast away the plug.

Next day, I pulled out all 25 feet of the snake, washed it thoroughly and sprayed WD-40 all along the length. I took apart the plastic hosing and wiped it clean and dry before reassembly.


  • there are plastic pins to align when you put the halves back together..
  • the snake is not attached to the housing, so it will come out all the way.
Conclusion: This plumbing snake worked excellently when connected to my drill, allowing me to rotate the housing and thereby the snake itself. The rotation gets the head of the snake past curves and turns and allows it to dig into whatever is blocking the drain. If you have a drill driver, you should certainly have one of these Plumbing Snakes. (You can use the unit manually by spinning the unit with the handle molded into it.)

  • If you drop the drain snake from even three or four feed, the plastic housing will likely break.
  • The snake bends rather easily.
  • The snake rusts quickly, so have some WD-40 or other oil spray to clean up the snake after each use.
Important Instructions:
  • Run the drill slowly. A  fast drill causes damage.
  • Feed about 6 to 8 inches of snake at a time. Too much snake outside its drum home, and especially too fast a run causes the snake to wrap all over itself and be ruined.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Power Pressure Cooker XL First Looks Review

Until a few weeks ago, I was using an old Presto pressure cooker, the type with the rocking weight on the vent. Then I decided to tighten the handle and broke the screw, leaving the unit without a handle. I almost bought another "ordinary" pressure cooker, but delayed, hoping for a sale. Meanwhile, the Power Pressure Cooker XL showed up in a couple of store ads (Kohl's and somewhere else), and it looked interesting.

Okay, so I got one at a good deal and tried it out. First impressions:

  1. The unit is well made, with a heavy pressure vessel, a high-quality non-stick coating on the inner pot, easy locking lid, and push-button controls.
  2. The cooker should really be called a multi-cooker, since it will work not only as a pressure cooker, but a rice cooker, slow cooker, steamer, and canner.
  3. The one-touch buttons, combined with the manual adjustment capabilities, make this cooker very flexible and easy to use.
  4. I made a batch of Swiss steak last night and it turned out very well.
  5. The six-quart capacity is large enough for good-sized roasts.
While the cooker itself is really great, the manual isn't quite as clear as it should be.
  1.  When the cooker starts, it warms up to cooking and pressure and then displays, for example, "P010" which means ten minutes of pressure cooking. The manual doesn't say this clearly.
  2. Owners of "traditional" pressure cookers should be told that there won't be any steam or hissing during pressure cooking with the Power Pressure Cooker XL, which apparently regulates the pressure so that no excess steam needs to be released. In other words, during pressure cooking, the  unit is almost completely silent. Put your ear next to it and you'll hear only a slight gurgling from the simmering boil inside.
  3. Turning the steam release valve to vent does indeed release the steam in quite a hiss, especially if you don't wait a few minutes for cool down.
  4. Cooking times should more clearly say that they don't include the up to 17 minute heating required to reach the necessary pressure and temperature.
This is a very nice unit. The control buttons give you good flexibility. When I first set the Swiss steak, the unit defaulted to a 10-minute cook, which I thought was too little, so I reset it to 30-minutes and got wonderfully tender meat.

I realize that a one-use test isn't very thorough, but I know some people are interested in a real owner's impression (those infomercials and box labels aren't always enough to know).

Bottom line: I am impressed with the quality and performance of the Power Pressure Cooker XL and based on early use, would recommend it. 

This is an unsolicited review based on a purchase at retail and with no money or goods given to me by anyone as an incentive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Maytag MGDC300XW3 Gas Dryer Review

With Southern California Edison's punitive electric rates (the more you use, the much higher per-kilowatt-hour rate you pay), I finally decided to retire my old (1985) Maytag electric dryer, since it seemed to be slowing down, and get a gas dryer instead of electric.

The unit I chose is a Maytag MGDC300XW3.

What I like about it.
1. It works well
2. It's a Maytag, so it should last. The promo said it has "commercial quality" parts.
3. It has a huge capacity.
4. It has several ways to operate (timed, automatic, etc.)
5. You can turn off the end-of-cycle buzzer if you want.

What I don't like about it.
1. At the end of the cycle, the dryer starts up again every few minutes and runs for a few seconds, allegedly to prevent wrinkles. I suppose this is a nice feature, but if you run the dryer and go to bed, the start-stop cycle is quite annoying, and there is no way to prevent it from running. (And if you inadvertently left the buzzer on, you get a buzzer noise each time.
2. When the heat turns on and off during the drying cycle, the gas valve or solenoid controlling the gas snaps quite audibly.

Generally speaking, the MDGC300XW3 is functional and reliable. If your laundry room is far from your bedroom, such as in the garage, or if you don't start the dryer and then go to bed, this could be an attractive choice.

Lepai LP-2020A+ Tripath TA2020 Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Amplifier with Power Supply Review

I have two of these well-made, nice looking little amplifiers. Both are in use every day: One takes the output of a five-disc CD player and sends it to two bookshelf speakers (six-inch woofers and three-inch tweeters). The other takes the audio from a cable TV box and sends it to two mini speakers (three-inch all-in-ones) that were formerly part of a surround sound system, I think.

Previously, one of the amplifiers powered two bookshelf speakers connected to my PC, so the output was from an audio jack (3mm) on the PC to the amplifier.

Both units have been working for about two years now and they both perform their required tasks very well. The manual treble and bass adjustments are rather modest, so I leave my amps on normal without the manual adjustment on.

The reviews on Amazon are very positive and very thorough. I add my endorsement to them. For an excellent, small, great looking stereo amplifier (20-watts per channel claimed), this is a choice I'd make again.

Circulon Cookware Pots and Pans Review

Rarely have I owned a product so consistently satisfying as the pots and pans made by Circulon. But before I grow even more complimentary, let me say that I have received no goods, services, or money from Circulon, nor has anyone requested this review.

I bought a set of Circulon pots and pans (I think it was from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, somewhere around 1998 or 1999. I have used them with joy ever since. They cook evenly, they still look like new, and best of all, they clean up so easily it's amazing. The non-stick surface is truly effective.

In fact, the reason I was prompted to write this review came after washing up a couple of pots recently. I was once again admiring how easily they clean up. And then later that day I had been in the cooking section of a Target store and noticed a couple trying to determine which frying pan to buy. Target had a selection ranging from the thin, cheap, Teflon-coated pans I used to buy myself, to the pricier and somewhat better, heavier pans.

If the couple hadn't left the cookware aisle abruptly, this is what I was going to say to them: "Don't waste your money on those cheap pots and pans, that you'll need to replace every year or so. Bite the bullet and invest in a set of Circulon cookware. True,  you're looking at more than twice the price, But you'll discover that you're getting more than twice the performance." Amazon has Circulon cookware in several choices, at about $200 for a nice set.

I've heard that Calphalon is a similar kind of cookware, with flat bottoms inside. (Circulon is so named because the inside bottom of each pan and pot features a circular pattern, sort of like little ridges and valleys.) Amazon also carries Calphalon at similar pricing.

If you want other opinions, click on the Amazon link and read some of the reviews. Note that the average rating from the reviewers is about four and a half stars.

If you cook, do yourself a favor and invest in a set of these pots and pans.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

3-Ton Heavy Duty Pittsburgh Jack Stands from Harbor Freight #69597--Review

I used these stands on a project recently, supporting part of a Toyota Camry during a strut change (see the review posting about the Monroe QuickStrut replacement). The stands are sturdy, with welded steel bases and thick, cast iron posts.  The adjustment range is from 11 1/2 to 16 3/8 inches. The 11 1/2 minimum means that most cars will need to be jacked up only enough to get the tire(s) off the ground before the jack stand can be positioned under the car.

How I Use Jack Stands

I jack the car up, put the stand under at a sturdy location, and let the jack down so that the car rests on the stand. I leave the jack up just below the stand as an added safety measure. It is not recommended to use the jack itself as a substitute for a jack stand. In other words, it's not a good idea to leave the car resting on the jack itself.


The key to using these jacks is that they should be placed on a concrete floor. If you have dirt, gravel, or asphalt, the legs are likely to dig in because they do not have a flare out on the base. The legs are shaped like angle iron with just a small amount of metal transferring the weight to the ground.

Included is a "safety tab" that you are to bend in after assembling the post to the base so that the post cannot slip out or be raised beyond a safe height.

And, of course, use the stands on a level floor so the car won't shift and fall off the stands. (You are putting blocks under the wheels that stay on the ground, aren't you?)

Harbor Freight often has "Super Coupons" for these jack stands, bringing the price down to a reasonable point and making good value for the money.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

1.5 Ton Jack Pittsburgh Automotive from Harbor Freight Item #60569 Review

I recently needed to jack up a midsize car (Toyota Camry) to do some repair work, and thought it would be a good idea to get a new jack, since my old jack is, well, old (as in 30 or 40 years). So I took advantage of a super coupon and got an aluminum 1.5 ton jack from Harbor Freight. I wanted aluminum so it wouldn't be so heavy. Steel jacks are quite heavy for those of us over 60.

The short news is that this jack really performed excellently. At one point I had to leave the car up overnight. I had the car on the jack, with a jack stand almost touching the frame (in case the jack failed), and I put my old jack under the car also as a triple-redundancy measure. Next morning, the car was still a quarter of an inch above the jack stand. The jack had not gone down at all. My old jack, on the other hand, had lost about six inches and was sitting there useless. If it had had the weight of the car on it, no doubt the car would have been sitting on the jack stand. And without the jack stand, the car would have been on the floor.

Now,  I know you're not supposed to leave a car on the jack like this, but I was just curious.

So, at this point with only a little use over a few days, kudos to Harbor Freight and its house brand, Pittsburgh Automotive for its 1.5 ton aluminum jack, racing style, rapid pump, low profile.

I like the fact that the release valve is integrated with the handle pumping position so that you don't need to remove the handle from the pumping position in order to lower the jack (as is the case with my old jack).

Item 60569, So far, I'm very pleased.

Monroe Quick Struts on a 2010 Toyota Camry--Review

As readers of my blogs know, Toyota has a problem with prematurely leaking struts on 2007-2010 Camrys. I had one strut replaced under warranty, but the dealer refused to replace another because it "wasn't leaking enough." Toyota's position is that "some leaking is normal." At any rate, I had my car in to an independent dealer for a brake job, and the manager once again informed me that two of the struts were leaking, one front and one rear. He quoted a price of $1200 to replace all four.

I had never considered changing the struts as a do-it-yourself project because every text, every video, and every live person strongly warned about the dangers of compressing and removing the spring from the strut. If the spring compressor slips, the spring can fly off with enough energy to maim or kill someone. (Imagine the disappointment of your wife or girlfriend to come out into the garage  to find you stretched out on he floor with half a spring coming out of your head.)

But--enter the Monroe Quick Strut and its competitors, KYB Strut-Plus, AC  Delco ReadyStrut, and Gabriel ReadyMount struts, all of which now offer a complete strut assembly that includes the strut, spring, bearing plate, boot, and spring isolators. Install time is cut by a third, and the price is quite reasonable, especially considering that if you buy a bearing plate separately, you could be looking at $60 or so.

I've watched a number of car repair episodes where the mechanic puts a greasy boot and a worn and misshapen spring isolator onto a new strut. Ick. So, why not go for a new everything? It's so much safer and lots easier.

So I bought four struts from Rock Auto and installed them myself. Cost was about $480, plus shipping of $68. And there was a rebate of about $115, so that altogether I was in for about $430. By doing it myself, I saved $770. Of course, I used the opportunity to buy some more tools, totaling $150, but I still came out ahead.

Installation was fairly easy and straightforward on the front (which is why he YouTube videos all show the front installation and not the rear). Since I had never changed a strut before, the first one took an hour and 45 minutes, and the second one took an hour a fifteen minutes.

Finding out how to access the rear struts was a challenge. I couldn't find any videos on how to do it. However, on other cars, the rear struts were accessed through the cargo shelf. I finally found a couple of how-to instructions for changing speakers in the back of the car, and they showed half of what I needed to know. The other half I learned by doing.

Since instruction on his activity is scarce, here is a brief rundown for changing the rear struts on a 2007 to 2010 Toyota Camry.

Disclaimer: This is a description of what I did, If you decide to follow this description, be very careful. You can injure or kill yourself if you are careless.

Access to the top bolts on the rear struts.

1. Fold down the rear seats by using the in-trunk seat releases. (Note: Some descriptions tell you to remove the rear seat, but I left it in place.)

2. Locate the plastic panel covering the rear pillar between the roof and the cargo shelf. Using a thin tool (plastic is best so you won't mar the panel, but if you are careful, you can use a small pry bar).pry up the corner of the panel nearest the front of the car. Two or three fasteners will pop out. When about one third of the panel is out, pull it toward you and it should slide free. Do the same for the panel on the other side of the car.

3. Pry under the cargo shelf in the middle, and it should pop free along the end closest to you. When the entire edge is free, pull the shelf toward you and it will come free. Note that the sear belts need to be freed from the guides at the top of the seats. Then you can slide the shelf down and lay it on the seats. (You might want to disconnect the wire to the center taillight, as it is very thin and might be fragile.)

4. Remove the seat belt retractors from both sides (one bolt). These retractors are blocking access to the well where the struts are connected.

5. Loosen the three mounting bolts on each tower. WARNING> NEVER LOOSEN OR REMOVE THE CENTER BOLT. The center bolt holds the spring under tension.

6.. Block the front wheels and proceed to jack up the car. I used a jack to  raise the car, a jack stand as a secondary "fail safe" backup, and a second jack stand to support the wheel when I removed the strut connector bolts.

7. Replacement is now the same as for the front struts.

8. Remember to tighten the upper mounting bolts AFTER  you  let the car back down on the ground.

9. Reattach the seat belt retractors, (plug in the taillight if you unplugged it earlier) ,slide the cargo shelf back into place, and slide the pillar panels back into place, taking care to put the tabs into the slots in the shelf. A couple of fist taps will reseat the plastic fasteners.

The task is relatively easy and quick if you are mechanically experienced. One shop quoted five and a half hours of labor for the job. I think that with the Monroe Quick Struts or similar all-in-one packages, professionals could easily do all four struts in 3 hours or less. My total time was probably something like 9 or 10 hours, since I got hung up on one of the rear struts not fitting easily. (The strut didn't quite match the bolt hole, and I had to figure out how to align the two. An extra jack solved the problem.)

The bottom line is that with the Monroe Quick Strut, or KYB Strut Plus or AC Delco ReadyStrut, Gabriel ReadyMount and perhaps others, the danger of a spring accident has been eliminated, and time and difficulty have been reduced. I found the price and service of Rock Auto to be exceptional, so I would recommend them, at least based on one purchase.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Western Digital WDBAAU0020HBK-01 2TB Hard Drive

I have a Western Digital 2TB external hard drive, model WDBAAU0020HBK-01, that I was using for backup on my PC. I noticed one day that it was not signing on along with my external Seagate drive. When I went to My Computer (I have a Windows 7 PC), only the Seagate was visible. I tried a number of things to get the drive recognized, but ultimately, I discovered that the power supply was dead. So I went to Fry's Electronics and got a universal power supply capable of 1800 milliamps (the original power supply says its output is 1.5A or 1500 milliamps. Plugged in the new supply (after checking the polarity--center is positive) and got nothing. After awhile, Windows installed a driver called Initio, but never recognized the drive as a USB hard drive. In other words, the drive's electronics are apparently dead, too.

The Backblaze cloud backup company issued a report recently noting that of the thousands of hard drives they use, Western Digital drives  have the highest failure rate. (Hitachi drives have the lowest.)

I just plugged the drive in one last time and nothing at all was recognized or connected.

Hard dive failure is always a cause of unhappiness, even with another backup and cloud backup.

Delta Diamond Seal Kitchen Faucet Repair

A year or two ago, I installed a new, single handle Delta kitchen faucet with a "Diamond Seal Technology" single handle cartridge. In the last couple of months, when the handle was pushed over to select hot water, the faucet would flow normally for about 20 seconds and then reduce the flow to just a minor amount. This slow flow happened just when the water was starting to feel warm,.

I finally got ready to replace the cartridge. When I removed the handle (with a 6mm Allen wrench on the set screw behind the red and blue plastic plug), I got ready  to take out the valve cartridge when a delay came up and I had to reassemble everything. I turned the water back on and checked the faucet. To my amazement, the hot water slowing effect was no longer present.

The only thing I could think of that might have remedied the situation was that I might have turned the shutoff valves on a bit farther than they were before.

At any rate, if you have this sudden flow reduction problem with a Delta faucet, try shutting the valves off under the sink and then opening them up all the way.

A note of caution: If you haven't turned off the shutoff valves in a long time, they might (1) be difficult to shut off all the way because of mineral buildup or (2) start leaking around the stem because of deterioration of the stem or the washer around it. When I replaced the kitchen faucet a couple of years ago, I had to replace both shutoff valves, too, because they were both corroded and leaking. That made working on this repair much easier.

If  you do need a Delta Diamond Seal Technology Single Handle Cartridge, the part number is RP50587. If the flow down issue returns, I have a spare ready.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Your Mileage May Vary

I recently got an RCA 1450 amplified digital antenna for a friend's use on a TV. The idea of getting over-the-air TV programming without  any cable bills was sweet. Just as a test, I hooked the antenna up to a TV in my house. The TV could detect no channels, zero channels, no matter how I positioned the antenna. I tried it without the amplifier, too, as recommended. Still zilch.

So is the product no good and should I write an indignant, negative review?

I took the antenna to the place where my friend is staying and hooked it up. Now, even though the TV is 60 miles from the TV aerials of the TV stations, the antenna pulled in more than 70 channels. A few were sketchy but most were clear and colorful.

So is the product excellent and deserving an award?

Negative reviews of products, with claims "it doesn't work," when found among reviews with five star ratings, makes me think that owner error is more likely than product defect or low quality.

How and when and where you use an item can make a difference in your judgment of the item's quality and functionality.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Repair Tip: Holding a Washer with a Magnet

I was repairing an electric wood chipper (from Harbor Freight) recently, and I needed to put in a small bolt with a washer inside the chopping chamber. The bolt went in vertically, and the tightness of access to the chipping chamber made it impossible to put the washer on the bolt and then screw the nut on the bolt--with one hand that barely fit inside the chamber.

I put a magnet on the back of the bolt (outside the chamber) and then slid on the washer, which held from the magnet. I was then able to leisurely screw on the nut without worrying about the washer coming off.

Tightened up, painted the threads and nut with a little fingernail polish to prevent the nut from loosening from the vibration of the chipper, and we're back in business.

To reach inside the chipper with the nail polish brush, I used a 12-inch stainless steel locking clamp (also from Harbor Freight). This type of clamp is used by surgeons, but it's also a really handy tool for the home DIY person. I use it to clean hair and junk from sink and shower drains, from garbage disposals (ever get a piece of plastic or aluminum in your disposer?), and to get into hard-to-reach places. I once used one of these to grab a bolt off an automobile engine where it had fallen. I couldn't reach it with my hands and didn't have my extension  magnet handy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hand Soap or Lotion Plunger that Won't Pop Up

If you buy a bottle of hand soap, lotion, or other pump dispenser item, sometimes the plunger dispenser is locked down so it won't accidentally squirt while being transported.

To unlock the plunger, hold the bottle and twist the plunger counterclockwise until it pops up.

Occasionally, the plunger will rotate but not pop up. To remedy this, unscrew the plunger from the bottle and remove it. Wipe the soap or lotion off the stem. Grasp the stem in one hand and the plunger in the other hand and twist it counterclockwise.

This remedy is a bit messy, but it's simple.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pulse Oximeter Review for CMS50DL

Whether  you exercise a lot, a little, or just pedal a desk, it's a good idea to check your pulse occasionally. For exercisers, you want to know if you have reached your target heart rate. For desk jockeys, you might want to know when it's time to start exercising. And wouldn't it be great if you could also check your blood oxygen level, too?

Enter the CMS50DL Pulse Oximeter by Crucial Medical Systems. This small, handy device works quickly, displays pulse and oxygen percentage on one display panel, and turns off automatically when you remove your finger. It features a low battery warning also.

And it's only about $18 from

CMS 50-DL Pulse Oximeter with Neck/Wrist cord

This unit has performed very well for me. If you read the reviews, a few people have tested its accuracy against professional models and found it to be quite accurate.

Some people have complained that it takes too long to read the pulse or doesn't work at all. Here are the reasons for delayed or no reading:

  • Movement. You need to hold still while the unit is reading. It won't read while you're bouncing on the treadmill.
  • Fingernail polish. The instrument shines a light through your finger. If you are wearing nail polish, the reading will either take longer or fail.
  • Long fingernails. The instrument is designed for your nails to be of ordinary, trimmed length. Long nails will prevent your finger from going far enough into the instrument to work correctly.
  • Not pushing the white ON button after the finger has been inserted.
In my experiments, the meter works when the finger is inserted nail up (the intended way), and it also works when the finger is upside down.

  • Low cost
  • Accurate
  • Compact and portable
  • The display is oriented to be read by someone putting it on your finger, making the reading upside down when you use it yourself.
This is a great little adjunct to your family medical supply kit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Coleman CT-70F LED Flashlight Review

I discussed the Coleman CT-70F LED flashlight in my other blog (, in the context of an experience that finally broke down my resistance to spending $40 (!) on a flashlight. The bottom line is that, yes, good LED flashlights cost more--sometimes a lot more--than the old style, but you get more too, such as very long run times, lifetime bulbs, and sturdy construction (because of the need for head sinking the LED, which generates a lot of heat).

See my previous posting for a recommended everyday around the house flashlight (120 lumens for $15). The puppy under discussion  here is for campers or people with big property (cattle ranchers, farmers, dirt bikers). Oh, and for urban dwellers like me who like to feely manly and tote a big, powerful flashlight.

There are brighter LED flashlights up to and beyond 1000 lumens, but for price versus performance, I like and recommend the Coleman CT-70F.

What I like:

  • Unlike some multifunction flashlights that make you cycle through all the settings to get to the one you want (bright-dim-strobe-off), the CT-70F switch is brilliant. Click on, Bright. Click off, Off. Click and hold, Bright to dim. Let up at any point to hold that level of intensity. Quick double click, Strobe. It's beautiful. You never have to go through a feature you don't want.
  • The bezel rotates to change the focus from spot to flood, giving you flexibility of lighting. 
  • The light is made of aircraft grade aluminum and sports a good heft. It feels like quality.
  • It uses 6 AA batteries, easy to get, not some weird battery that costs $20 by itself.
What I don't like:
  • If you shake the flashlight, the batteries rattle inside. That detracts from the high-quality message the rest of the light conveys.
  • It was a challenge to find out how to install the batteries. There are two warnings, on the package and on the instructions, not to put the batteries in backwards. But nothing about how to put them in. I finally had to use my 120 lumen Rayovac, shining down the battery tubes, to see a little tiny diagram. So if you get one of these, here are the instructions: Be sure to install the batteries with the positive + end toward the front (bulb) end of the flashlight.
Since a lot of men might be hesitant to drop $40 plus tax on a flashlight, but since most men would be thrilled to own one of these, it would make a great father's day, birthday, Christmas, or anytime gift. Make your man feel manly and get him one of these.

LED Flashlight Review and Recommendations

Those old-fashioned, incandescent-bulb flashlights are just so five minutes ago, their creaking technology now superseded by the LED flashlight. It's not just the yellow light from the old school types; the new LED lights are just so much brighter.

1. First, an inexpensive way to go LED is to buy an LED replacement bulb for your current incandescent bulb flashlight. What difference will that make? A standard, 2 D-cell flashlight puts out about 9 lumens of light. Changing to an LED bulb at the cheap end ($2-$5) will give you 30 lumens of light, more than triple the output.

I've used the Rayovac 3VLED-1T bulb, rated 3 volts, 0.16 amps and 0.5 watt. The color is slightly lavender, common among the low end LED bulbs.

I also put this bulb in my 3 D-cell Mag-Lite, and so far it works okay. Caution, though. If you try this, remember that you'll be running 4.5 volts through a 3 volt piece of electronics, generating more heat and so forth. So if you leave the light on too long, the LED may fail.

2. The next step up is to get a new LED flashlight. Not one of those "9 LED" things you can get for a dollar, but a good one. How do you tell what is a good one? Here's the quick test:

  • Be sure the flashlight contains an official FL-1 rating. Most new flashlights do, even the old, incandescent ones.
  • Choose the amount of brightness you need. Recommendation: For your car, bedside table, walks around the neighborhood, checking in the basement during a power failure, 120 lumens is a good choice. See the recommendation below.  For wilderness camping, when you want to see the coyotes (or timber wolves or mountain lions) down the hill or across the valley, you might want to check out another recommendation (see below) a 700-lumen light.
  • Check the color. As noted above, some LED bulbs produce a slightly lavender beam, while others are bright white.
  • If you want extra features, like an adjustable focus (from spot light to flood light) or high and low settings or strobe, be sure to check the specs.
  • Check the spot light quality for size and roundness and the spill size (the much less bright lighted area around the spot) to be sure it meets your needs.
Yes, LED flashlights are a lot more expensive than yesterday's technology, partly because the first generation lights were sold to police and firefighters at huge prices (even hundreds of dollars), and the market is still adjusting downward from there. (I remember when the first VCR cost $1295.00.) So, what's a good deal in these pricier lights? 

I really like the Rayovac Indestructible 120-Lumen flashlight, model OT3AAA-B or BA. The body is made of aluminum-titanium alloy and it has high 120 lumen and low 19 lumen modes and will run for 5 hours on high and 40 hours on low. There are videos on YouTube showing people hitting it with a hammer, dropping in it water, and so on. And I like the angled edge that prevents it from rolling. The light output is white and the spot and fill areas are very good, both quite round and even. About $15. Got mine at Walmart.

I'm going to take my own recommendation and get some more of these for family and friends.

An alternative is the Ozark Trail 150 lumen flashlight. It's a great choice to have  handy in your car's glove box, since it is only about 4.5 inches long. Since it is a Walmart house brand, you know where to get it. About $11.

Which to choose? The Rayovac is worth the extra $4 to me. Even though it has a lower lumen rating, the light is whiter (the Ozark Trail has just a hint of lavender cast), the shape of both the spot and the spill are better to my eyes, and the two-modes (high and low) provides flexibility. And, I admit, the Rayovac has a much more manly design.