Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 15 Minute Wood Gas Camping stove!

I was bored today so I decided to make something I wanted to make a long time ago, when I was into "survival/prepping" experiments.

Now a days, I really no longer care about these things, but I was bored, so I decided to try and make one.

I used just a few supplies, and only two tools to make it.

A. One Coffee tin
B. One Chai Tea tin
C. One Leatherman
D. One pink Sharpee Marker
E. One pair of old kitchen scissors(to make the pot holder)

It took me 15 minutes to make. The idea was to not use any modern power tools.

The temperature outside was 32 degrees, and the water was probably 40 degrees when I started it.  It took the stove 10 minutes to boil a pot of water, but I think it could have done it faster if I knew that I had to keep feeding it.

It burned very cleanly, once I fixed the problem with the pot holder(pictures as bottom)

Pictures not enough?  There is a video on this at the bottom!

Step One

Cut a hole in the coffee tin lid with a knife that is slightly smaller
than the tea tin(inner chamber)


Make the hole in the lid slightly smaller than the smaller tin

Step 3

Poke several holes in the bottom of the inner(Tea Tin) chamber

When completed, it should look like this

Step 4.

Poke holes all the way around the bottom side of the inner tin about 3/4 inch from the bottom. Make
large holes, these(shown( ended up being too small)

These hole I am putting in the sides of the tins are rather small.  It made the stove smoke a lot, and it didn't burn well.  It took me 5 minutes to go back with my leatherman, and twist it into the holes to make them larger.  Make them as large as you can.  Don't break your knife, but you should be able to twist it back and forth to make a decent sized set of holes.

Step 5.

Add hole at the top 3/4 inch near the open end of the inner tin. Again make the holes large.
The ones shown were too small.  Turn your knife a little in the hole


After your done with the inner tin it should look like this

Step 6.

Cut large holes the whole way around, 3/4 of an inch from the bottom
of the outer(coffee) tin.

Step 7

Place the inner(tea) tin inside the outer(coffee) tin lid

Step 8

With your multi-tool push the inside of the steel lid tabs up against the inner tin
as much as you can to make a tighter seal

Supplies and tools used

One tea tin, one coffee tin, one leatherman, and one pink sharpee(to mark
the circle for the hole for the inner chamber)

ALMOST finished product

It turned out the pot holder(lid for the tea tin) was too restrictive in its current form

"Finished" with better pot holder

Cutting up the lid in this way made a pot holder that didn't smother the fire. I had tried using little rings of
3/4 inch copper pipe that I had cut to about 3/4 length in height and all though they worked okay, they kept falling
into the stove.  


Right before this, it was a strong rolling boil, but I let it calm down because it fogged up the camera lens...

I actually did the cooking using 4 copper rings I cut out of 3/4 copper plumbing pipe.

This worked well with the exception that the copper rings kept falling into the
wood gas stove.  After removing one with my leatherman, I tried to pick it up,
burning the finger print off of that particular digit

Later the same night, I made the following version.

Again, the idea is to use as few tools as possible.  I could make a better pot stand for sure with a few machine bolts, and my power drill, but the idea is to do this on the primitive, so to speak...

It took me about 10 minutes.  What is that you say?  I should have used more time...

Step 1 of the improved pot holder

First draw a pattern with a sharpee.  If you knew Geometry, this would be a snap!
I don't know my geometry.....

Step 2 of the improved pot holder

Cut the pattern out with your knife.  BE CAREFUL!!!

Step 3 of the improved pot holder

It's "done"

Final product

It actually held the standard pot up pretty well!  Looks like garbage, is garbage, but it works!
You can cook your hobo stew on it!!

See the video tutorial at this link, and watch me boil water!

See the free 15 minute wood gas stove VS snow!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Technical Side of the Continuously Variable Transmission(CVT)

Belt type CVT transmission have really been around for ever.  In fact, my 1981 Arctic Cat, Snow Mobile had a continuously variable transmission that operated on the very same principle as the one in our new 2013 Subaru, XV Crosstrek.

Shown is a snow mobile, rubber belt driven CVT

However, since we just bought a vehicle equipped with a CVT to use to tow our tear drop camping trailer, suddenly I was interested in finding out every detail I could about how reliable the CVT is, what can happen to it, and if anyone has had any problems towing with one.

This new interest was brought about because of one time when I was pulling the trailer, gave it too much gas when it was cold, and felt what I would later find out was a "shudder"

It's easy to understand how the belt and variators( variable belt pulleys) work to give you an infinite number of gear ratios allowing you to always get the most torque out of the engine, no matter the speed.

Shown at the link below is the belt driven CVT.  This model is driven by a fiber reinforced rubber belt.

Below is a white board tutorial I did to try and explain the concept of the cvt

However, once you add a STEEL CVT belt instead of the normal rubber one, things become much more interesting...

The advantage to the steel belt is that it is stronger, and since it is bathed in oil, it never needs changed.  Similar to a timing chain in an engine.

Suddenly you have to start to think about the fluid dynamics of the CVT oil with its additive pack.

Wikipedia has a misquote on how the belt driven CVT works.  I have not only read the Wikipedia article, but the original masters thesis that the Wiki author plagiarizes to write the page.

In this wiki, it is stated that the "CVT fluid is there to ensure that the steel belt "never" touches the variators or pulleys"

In fact, the CVT fluid is there to ensure that the belt never touches the variators WHEN THE GEAR RATIO IS CHANGING.  Meaning when the CVT belt is traveling up and down the variators vertically to find the right gear ratio.

After the transmission finds the appropriate gear ratio, the oil film of the cvt has to get out of the way, and allow the steel belt to lock up directly with the surface of the variator to propel the vehicle.

Companies put additives in the CVT fluid to protect the variators and belts when this happens. One additive they can use is zinc-chemical, which on the molecular level, forms little pads on the cvt variators so that when the belt gets pressed into the surface of the pulleys, there is not metal to metal damage that occurs, scoring the variator surfaces.

So, the first question is, how reliable is it? 

Well there have been some reported problems with these transmission for sure.  There have been many slipping belts(causing sure failure), there have been instances of the quick lube oil change shops stupidly putting in the wrong Automatic Transmission Fluid after a "transmission flush", and many instance of shuddering. 

However, there has also been wide use with the CVT transmissions and especially in Europe.  That means there are literally millions of these transmissions on the road, and only a small fraction of them that are problematic or fail.

So what can cause a slipping CVT belt?
Many things, but a few sure ways would be gunning a cold transmission from a stop, not allowing the CVT to engage before switching form reverse to drive before giving it throttle to drive off, and exceeding the listed towing capacity in general, and under certain situation like high heat, prolonged hill climbing and such.

A: Gunning a car with a cold CVT transmission:  Before the CVT fully warms up, the transmission fluid can be thick, which means it doesn't pump as well.  This in turn means that it is possible that the transmission might not be able to apply the needed horizontal clamping pressure on each side of the variator onto the steel belt to ensure it locks up tight between the surface of the belt, and variator, producing a damaging metal on metal slide. 

B. The CVT takes more time to situate itself when switching from Drive to Reverse, or vice versa.  While it is performing this task, the transmission drops horizontal pressure to the variators.  If one tries to switch out of reverse and quickly gun it, it is possible that the transmission might not be able to apply the needed horizontal pressure in time to lock the belt to the pulleys and once again, you get a metal to metal slide.

In this type of slide, it is possible, or even likely that the steel belt(think chain) can rub on the variators causing it to chew up the surface of the pulleys.

C. When you exceed the listed towing capacity, you are putting a lot more strain on the belt and pulley(variators) in the direction perpendicular to the horizontal clamping force of the variators.  You can overwhelm the friction caused by the horizontal force on the belt, and have shearing. Meaning there is too much strain and the belt can tear loose of the pulley, and slip along the variator, causing damage.  This is more likely on prolonged up hill climbs, and in hot weather.

The quick lube stores putting in the wrong ATF fluid, what can happen?
Standard ATF fluid for cars with planetary(regular) type gears is much thinner than CVT oil.  The thinness of the oil will not prevent the steel chain from touching, rubbing on the variators and chewing up the surfaces when gear ratios are changing.  In essence, you are letting the metal CVT belt file down the surface of the variators, which will absolutely lead to a transmission pan full of metal shavings, and catastrophic failure.


In the end you are likely not saving yourself money, you will cost yourself thousands of dollars in repair bills.  If you want someone to do something to your CVT, seriously as much as I hate to admit it, take it to the dealer!

CVT shuddering, what can cause it? 

In short, microslips.. These aren't like the a slip that can necessarily cause major damage to the transmission.

A. Not letting the transmission warm up(thick CVT fluid not allowing enough horizontal pressure to be placed on the variators.

B. Worn out CVT fluid that additive pack suspended in the oil is past its useful lifetime, thereby  preventing a high belt surface to variator surface high friction coefficient.

Press your palms together as hard as you can, then try to slip them back and forth.  Now wet them, and try the same thing... This is like the belt slipping on the pulleys(variators).  Except unlike your hands, the belt slipping on the variators(pulleys) will damage them...

A. The phenomenon that makes it so your hands don't slip easily is a higher friction coefficient.

B. When the engine is cold, think of not being able to press your palms together as hard. They will slip easily.

C. When you are towing a trailer that is too heavy, think of someone else grabbing your hands and pulling them apart at a right angle to the direction you are pushing them together.

Of course, the transmission puts A LOT more pressure on the belt than you are capable of on your hands.  Also, instead of a nice soft rough surface like your palms, inside the transmission, the surfaces are extremely hard, ultra smooth steel that had a film of oil in between the surfaces, right before it was pressed out to lock up the surfaces.

Are you gaining an appreciation for the forces involved to propel a roughly 3500 pound car towing a trailer with a smooth steel belt, and pulleys?


I. Warming this car up before you drive it hard is way more important than on a manual transmission, or even a standard automatic transmission car in order to allow the CVT fluid to flow correctly applying the proper clamping force to the steel belt.

II. Under hard use like towing, constant extreme acceleration, driving in extreme heat, and up and down large mountainous hills, you will want to have your CVT fluid changed, BY THE DEALER earlier than is recommended.  You don't want the oil to thin out loosing viscosity thereby allowing the steel belt to rub the variators while the car is hunting for the proper "gear". Plus, once the additive pack wears out, the anti wear materials are rendered useless.

III. The steel belt driven CVT really is a thing of beauty. The car will almost always be in the right "gear".    However, it will not stand up to the abuse that other transmissions can take.  There are no gears with teeth that lock the drive gears and engine torque together like in other transmissions.

IV.  High heat on this transmission plays a more critical role because for one, the CVT fluid can thin out, which once again will allow the belt to rub off material on the pulleys(variators).

V. The torque converter(what allows your car to idle while it is in gear) locks up much quicker in these transmission over a standard auto trans.  This prevents heat build up, and makes the car more fuel efficient.  The torque converter is able to do so because of the infinite, and very high gear ratios possible in this type of transmission.  The transmission is capable of a really "low granny gear" as well as an overdrive capability all in one.  It is like having a 20 gear transmission!

I have a robust all wheel drive Subaru which has a CVT, but Nissan is putting CVT transmission's in their 245 horse power, Murano SUVs, which should indicate how strong the CVT really can be.

The CVT really does drive BETTER than a standard Automatic with gears, however for reliability, I would still choose a standard Automatic over one.  Having said that, our only choice in our new XV Crostrek was either a CVT(which they had lots of), or a manual transmission, which they only had one of.

We chose the CVT for my wife.

technical ariticles

first article

Second article

Yale course on fluid dynamics I found helpful

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oil really might be black gold..

You might think this is a "No Duh" moment, but are you sure you really know why that is?

During the initial warranty period of my new cars, I am forced into some sort of OCD like compulsion via the new car owners warranty agreement to follow what I know, are arbitrary oil change intervals.  I do them when stated, because the car manufacturers are basically holding a gun to my head saying I will do their bidding, or run the risk that if my car engine is not engineered, or built properly they will try to weasel out of fixing my car for free for the minor infraction of missing one small oil change.

After the warranty period though I was free!  No longer could anyone make me do something that was against my nature...

It was not uncommon for me to go 30,000 miles without changing the oil.  I reveled in the thrill of letting my oil work itself into a nice sludge, and thumbing my nose at the industry, thinking I am much smarter than you people!  You can't bullshit a bull shiter!

I reasoned that todays modern engines are engineered so well that they can take the abuse, and still live to see 200,000 miles.  After all, anecdotally  I had my own research! The Subaru I traded in had 196,000 miles on it when I was done with it!

To be fair, I did blow up two engines before that, but those were flukes! They both had issues before I got them!  I was doing reverse donuts in the diesel Volkswagen when it died, and the Chevy spectrum was just poorly designed! 

Chevys of the mid to late 80s were garbage anyway! ;)

Since I love conspiracy theories I loved to think about how I was smarter than the evil oil cartels who conspire with the auto manufacturers to have larger and larger profits at car owners expense by hoodwinking foolish weekend mechanics DIYer car owners, and just conscientious car owners into changing their oil more frequently than necessary.

Yep, this modo has served me well until I decided to first start towing my tear drop camper with the Mazda 3, and then later to decide I didn't have the financial strength to trade the Mazda in on a new car when it reached the 200,000 milestone I had previously set.

Suddenly I was very interested in the fluid dynamics of common engine oil. 

What color should it be? 

Why do I need an oil with a good "detergent package"

What sorts of additives do they add to the oil, and what do they do?

Through asking myself those questions, I came up with some knowledge about engine oils.

Since we live in the age of the internet, I was able to find all of those newly important questions for my new found interest, love, and respect for engine oil.

Once I realized that this really DID effect my pocket book, it was all over, I had to know.

Below is what I have found:

A: Used engine oil color doesn't matter.  Mostly.  People are often troubled by their new engine oil turning black quickly.  They shouldn't be.

The reason engine oil turns black so quickly 95% of the time it mostly due to modern engines oils superior ability to store and suspend harmful contaminants in the oil itself and away from any critical parts. 

First, there is a detergent pack to help scrub crude off of the engine parts.  The detergents in use today are metallic salts called, Sulfonates, phenates, phosphonates, and salicylates
Second, modern engine oils have dispersant agents that help to keep contaminants in suspension inside the motor oil, away from the critical parts.
Common dispersant types include polyisobutenyl succinimides and polyisobutenyl succinic esters

Even though modern oils are so good at first scrubbing off the harmful deposits and then storing them inside the oil, viscosity doesn't change, and the oil does not suffer degradation from this. 

So just because an oil is black, does not mean it is bad, or needs changed.

Older oils couldn't do this near as well. What happened was that the contaminants circulated round the engine for a while limiting flow rate, and often collecting in the most inconvenient places in the engine.  The oil pump sump intake, the oil journals(tubs that supply oil to all the delicate parts of the engine), the grooves of the crank bearings, piston connecting rod bearings, etc.

Older oils may have looked clear, but that just meant they didn't always pick up all the contaminants and store them in suspension inside the liquid of the oil.

Below is a gummed up, and destroyed piston connecting rod bearing. This is likely from other events
which I will go over, but this serves to show you what I mean.

New connecting rod bearings.  Used ones in good shape should be like this. Smooth, with clear ports
B: There are many reasons why shorter trips of say 5 miles are much worse for your car engine, than 50 miles per stretch.
I will go over a few.
On short trips in the car, your engine oil does not get the chance to properly heat up and bake, for lack of a better word for the appropriate time in order to cook all the water moisture out of the oil.
This in turn, leads to one major component of the dreaded ENGINE SLUDGE..  Just like "the blob" it will creep up on you and get you!
What a nice clean engine should be

Now in addition to short trips, or more precisely in conjunction WITH not changing your oil, this can lead to engine sludge.
Engine sludge, can break loose and block oil pump pickups, get embedded in oil journals, stick the piston oil rings into the pistons, etc. 
Not changing your oil will most likely lead to every above symptom  for two reasons right off the top of my head.
I. If you don't change your oil, that wonderful oil that I said it so superior to the oil of old, will get oversaturated.  It will start to thicken and be more like well, sludge...
II.  If you are not running your car for long periods of time, a sure fire way to get all of that nasty water vapor out, would be to take the car for a drive to let the oil warm up, and then drain all of that nasty "water logged" oil right out of the engine, and replace it with fresh, loving, clean oil.
III.  This fact often goes unmentioned on the car guru sights.  If your only running your car for short trips, there are many more engine starts than a car with the same mileage that has racked up the mileage on the highway during long, 100 mile journeys.
This of this.  Two cars with 50,000 miles on the odometer.  Car A has driven 100 miles a day at 65 miles per hour.  2 engine starts a day, which would be 500 total engine starts.  Car B, which has driven for 5 mile hops through the city to the mall, has probably more than 2 starts a day, but well just take two for easy math has 10,000 starts over that 50K miles.
Starting your engine cold, is the worse thing for your engine.  Most of the wear and tear happens then in the split second before oil has a chance to flow into the critical places!
C: Modern Synthetic motor oil IS better than old fashioned mineral oil in almost all, if not all respects.
You probably have heard horror stories of people switching form regular mineral based motor oil to synthetic and having all sorts of problems.  One main problem that people had was developed oil leaks.
This is true.  There were issues.  What would happen is mineral oils, would swell engine gaskets, while older style synthetics wouldn't.  So in essence your engine gasket would thin(or more precisely, wouldn't swell up to fill all the gaps), and the engines would develope oil leaks.
Not only would you have your nice clean driveway and garage marred by the unsightly look of your car defecating on your nice clean surface, but what would happen is your engine would leak oil, and you would need to add more oil regularly to your car. 
If you didn't, your engine would run out of oil, and lock up tighter than the lending of modern banks
Equally as important as the oil running out of your engine into the driveway, your car would then burn oil through the combustion process.
It would start to burn oil because of the valve seals "shrinking up", and not providing a good seal.  Oil would leak through your valve seals, into the engine combustion chamber, making your car smoke when you gagged on the throttle, burning more oil, fouling your spark plugs, clogging your catalytic converter, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, making you look like a geek to the other drivers
Never fear though!!
Modern Synthetic motor oil, suffers none of those problems!  The evil oil cartel, and motor oil manufacturers have gotten smart!
They now put gasket swelling agents into their synthetic motor oils that keep your engine seals in good shape, even if you decide to switch to the premium synthetic oils.
Now that we have discussed how the evils of synthetics have been eliminated, let me list why modern synthetics are actually superior to standard mineral motor oil.
I.  Synthetic motor oils are capable of greater engine contaminant storage.  Think of this fluid as a larger tank capable of holding within it, safely away from the critical engine parts anything that would get into the oil, and harm the engine.
This is how you can go longer between oil changes than with standard mineral based motor oil.
II.  Synthetics aren't as prone to thicken up under extreme cold temperatures in the winter.  That means when you start your engine on that ass freezing cold day, the engine oil will flow better and get to the vital parts quicker than standard oils. They have really good pour point depressants that keep the oil from thickening up when cold by preventing the molecular growth of wax crystals.
III. Synthetic oils are less prone to loose their viscosity or "thin out" at extreme temperatures(extreme driving). keeping your engine parts protected during hard driving.
IV.  Synthetics clean your engine better than mineral motor oils.  Standard oil tends to varnish the inside of the engine parts.  Synthetics do not do this, and from what I read can actually clean the varnish off the engine parts.
D: Those fancy, high mileage oils are more than just hype, and clever marketing to trick you out of your hard earned cash..
I have read a great deal from technical magazine articles, and anecdotally online that Valvaline Maxlife really does work.
It has a great additive pack, that actually does condition old seals, and may in fact stop a small oil leak. 
I have read story after story online about this.  The process of sealing your engine against oil leaks both from your driveways perspective, and your combustion chambers not burning oil, is worth the extra cost.
UPDATE AFTER FIRST OIL CHANGE:   The Valvoline Maxlife completely stopped my car form burning oil.  Before that, the car would burn quite a bit of oil.  In fact, if I waited a month to change my oil, I would come back, and the oil level wouldn't even read on the dipstick.  Now when I check the dipstick, the level hasn't moved!
Most oils have a lower level of the type of additives that are actually in the products above.
Most oils are detergent oil, meaning they have additives that help to scour off crude from your engine parts. Just not to the level of the detergents in high mileage oil.
High mileage oils have special anti-wear additives in them, that are designed to limit metal stress.
Forget about special after market oil additives like Slick 50, and Duralube.  There is no scientific evidence they do anything. Just get a good oil, and change it fairly regularly, and your engine will be happy with you!
 E: Another important topic that isn't about the oil so much, as the tool used to keep it clean, is your oil filter.
Changing your oil filter is just as important as changing your oil. 
There are some writings that you should change it half as often as the oil, and how as the oil filter becomes used it can filter smaller and smaller particles, which makes some sense, but just to be on the safe side, change it at the same time.
Buy a good oil filter, don't cheap out!  Especially if you are like me, and like to push the envelope on oil change intervals.
Cheap filters not only will filter less harmful particles like metal particles, but may also become clogged easily.
If your oil filter becomes clogged, you may find your engine starved for oil, and locking up.
I am not sure all oil filters have the bypass valves that are designed to open up when they become saturated and clogged.  Especially filters like mine the Mazda which are just an interchangeable paper filters, instead of the normal steel canister.
I will attach links to the persons site that incurred a huge expense to test different brands of oil filters.
I am sure I am missing some stuff.  I set out to just record my findings.  There are some really knowledgeable people out there that can tell you about oil chemistry, base stock, etc.
I am not claiming to be an expert, this just tries to summarize my findings, and I attempted to write it in a way others can read. 
Some of this I knew. I was aware about the short trips, and what engine sludge does to an engine. I knew that they had started adding swelling agents to synthetics some years ago, and how they were previously problems. 
However, I didn't know how easily sludge forms even in todays engines, with the oils of today, how the detergents in the oils work so much better than in old days, how the modern engine oils are so good at suspending particles and keeping them away from engine parts, and the fact that High Mileage oils actually do work, and are worth the money...
I have worked on engines(major rebuilds, bottom ends, cams, connecting rod bearings, new pistons, etc) for years, but stupidly never saw the importance of common engine oils.  I always thought engine design was the most important, and still think it is, but engine oil, is half the battle.
Feel free to let me know if I need corrections!
As well as this...

Mark :)