Converting Par36 bulbs to LED

Last year we got an electric car to go around the farm. It's a Toro Workman and it has an electric tipping bed that carries 400kg and climbs our steep paths with ease. We're really happy with it. We bought it used and the company that sold it was less than stellar in getting it to us in good condition. One of the things we had to fix was a broken head lamp. The lamps are Par36 28V bulbs, so the whole headlamp is actually a bulb. One of the two was fried and since the two are wired in series this meant we didn't have any lights. This sucks in nice winter days when the temperature is fine but the day ends very early.

It was getting late and the cat wanted a ride. We couldn't do it without lights though...

We had asked the local glass supplier to cut out the back of the bulbs. He did a decent job even though he didn't center his drill very well. This meant the cut wasn't parallel to the bulb orientation.

We got some pre-packaged LEDs off ebay. They were a nice round shape that would fit nicely on the back of the bulb. Now we just needed to secure them properly and wire them up.

We took a piece of leftover IKEA board that we didn't use and cut out a square with a round hole in the middle.

We used a hammer and a nail to open up two small holes in the board to fit the two pins from the LEDs.

We also took some leftover power cord and made two extensions.

Then it was a matter of putting the board in and soldering the two extensions to it. We used some pieces of heat-shrink tubing to protect the soldering and avoid short-circuits.

To secure the LEDs to the board we used a nylon screw on the opposite side of the soldering. We tried gluing it on with a bunch of things and it didn't work. We glued on a few pieces of wood/board to level the boards against the two cut bulbs, to solve the problem with the cuts not being centered. We then trimmed the boards to size (right one was trimmed after painting). To make the board cleaner we masked the LEDs themselves and painted the boards with a gray spray can. 

To attach the boards to the bulbs we simply used duct tape. We were careful to make sure the tape reached the edge of the bulb, as that's what is then put inside a rubber piece and put into the car so the tape becomes mechanically locked. It taped on just fine though.

Here are the two bulbs finished.

Here is one bulb put into its rubber sleeve, ready to install into the front of the car.

And here is the end-result in the car. The cat was gone by then though so no ride for him.

You may notice the right bulb is brighter than the left. That's because initially we wired the two in series. The LED's we got were rated 11-28V but since they have buck converters to achieve that you can't really wire them in series. Instead we added a DC regulator to get 12V out of the batteries 48V and then ran the two bulbs in parallel. It now works great, with much less power consumption than the previous bulbs, which is relevant in an electric car.

Building an observation hive

When we started beekeeping one thing we read in multiple places was that getting an observation hive was a great way to learn. An observation hive is basically a glass sided bee hive so that you can look into it without putting on a bee suit and disturbing the bees. 

Michael Bush has a great page on what to consider in observation hive design. We used that page and some advice from the beesource forums to design a single wide 6 frame hive. We did an initial sketch in Google Sketchup:

After thinking it over and detailing the design we defined all the wood sizes we needed and had them cut for us. We also ordered two framed glass panes from a picture frame supplier. With all the supplies ready we got to work. We build the two sides, one with a hole in the middle that will serve as the bee entrance:

We quickly built the basic frame, using some right angle metal pieces for strength and two threaded rods at even spacing to attach the frame supports and to make sure the top bar was straight.

This was our first test fit of everything.

Two lengthwise pieces on top and bottom will seal the gap against the glass frames.

We also opened up the entrance side hole to 31mm and fitted a brass hose connector so we can then attach a hose to connect the hive to the outside. We had to use an adjustable drill bit as we couldn't find a 31mm or 32mm bit. These things suck for this job. The hole was already cut at a smaller size so the center part of the bit that guides the hole had nothing to connect to and since the drill only cuts on one side it becomes unstable. Because the bit is so long it swiveled pretty easily even when using a drill press. Only after getting the initial depth done did the drill stabilize as it became locked into its own hole. Next time we need to plan ahead more and use the adjustable drill for the initial hole and them finish the inside with the smaller bit.

A first test fit with everything in place. We made some frame supports with folded sheet metal held in place between two bolts and two washers on the threaded rods. On the right and left sides the frame supports are also folded metal and screwed in directly to the wood. We're still considering making these a bit better. They only have a stop for the frames in the back so the frames can still fall forward.

The glass frames were attached with some simple metal holds on top on both sides, and three nails on the bottom plank to make sure the glass frame fits snuggly (it's not nailed in).

Here's the final assembly. Note the cork top in the middle of the top bar. We drilled 19mm holes aligned with the center of each of the top frames. That way it's easy to open/close them for adjusting ventilation or to setup a rapid feeder.

After getting the finishing touches done we'll be putting it in a small building on the farm and routing a one inch transparent hose from the entrance through the wall of the building so the bees can get in and out freely without being able to enter the building itself. We'll probably do a spring split into the observation hive to be able to observe the bees make a new queen.

Adding comb guides to regular bee hive frames to go foundationless

We've been running foundationless frames on all our hives. It's less work and may have some health benefits for the bees. To do this though we've had to retrofit comb guides to our regular bought frames. We don't make our own equipment. Our hive supplier is cheap enough and we're small enough that it wouldn't make sense to start making them, so we have to modify them to our needs.

We started by using tongue depressors to press into the groove carved on the inside of the top bar of the frame that would normally fit the wax sheet. We found that two of them fit snugly into the frames and initially just pressed them in by hand and started using them. What we found was that even after the bees had put propolis on the depressors they would still sometimes fall out of the frame, probably once the hive got hot and the wood expanded. We had a hive lose a full comb probably as a combination of wood expansion and the comb's weight. Our method for these is now to put in a small amount of regular wood glue into the groove and then press the tongue depressors in. This seems to work fine and we haven't had one fail yet.

Our next issue was that sometimes the bees would actually build comb on both sides of the tongue depressors, so two combs to a frame, instead of using it as a guide. We had this happen with a new swarm. Once they get into that rhythm it's hard to break them off of it as they'll base the location of the next comb on the distance from the previous one, again ignoring the guide on the frame. We've recently tried a different approach which was to glue and nail a wedge to the full length of the frame. We had a woodshop take a 2cm by 2cm section length of pine wood and cut it in half lengthwise between opposite corners. This gave us the triangular section wedge to glue onto the frame. We cut it into several pieces with the length of the internal frame width and glued it on with wood glue and then nailed it in. The nailing was the hardest part, and a nail or staple gun might be ideal for this. So far we've only done a 10 frame box to test this in one of this year's swarm boxes.

The end result are two types of foundationless frame that we use in our swarm traps

When the bees take the hint and follow the guide the end result is nicely drawn pristine white wax.

Using leftover olive oil to make soap

This weekend we made our first attempt at making homemade soap. It was pretty straightforward and a lot easier than we had anticipated. There was some leftover olive oil from 2011 in the bottom of the stainless steel containers we use to keep it. We needed to remove it to refill them with the new 2013 olive oil. The leftover olive oil had gotten cloudy and thick and although we didn't want to use for cooking we couldn't just throw it away.

So we looked up some online recipes and found a great DIY video of how to make olive oil soap.

We followed the recipe adjusting the dosages and confirmed the lye proportions using an online lye calculator (inputing 0% superfat and 0% lye discount). The only ingredients you really need to make oilve oil soap are lye and olive oil. Lye is produced by mixing together granulated sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda - available in any hardware store) and water and is very corrosive. You need to wear protective gear (gloves and protective glasses) to prevent chemical burns from splashes.

We had 1773g olive oil, so according to our calculations we needed 237g caustic soda and 663g water to make the lye. We weighted the olive oil first to be able to make just the lye we needed - you don't want to store leftover lye...

We used only plastic and silicone containers and tools because lye can damage glass and wood and react vigorously with some metals (like aluminium) to produce highly flammable hydrogen gas.

Then we weighed the caustic soda and water and added the caustic soda to the water (never add water to caustic soda!).

Mixed it well until it became fully dissolved and transparent. Making lye is an exothermic reaction and it really heats up! We did it outdoors because of the fumes that are released during the dissolution.

Gently poured the lye into the olive oil.

Gave it a mix with a plastic spoon.

And then used a hand blender to speed up the process of getting the soap to trace. Trace is a sign of emulsification, meaning that the oil and water are completely mixed together and are not going to separate again. It is called trace because when you drizzle a little of the mixture back into the container, you see a little ridge or trace of it left behind that takes a few seconds to disappear. Before hand blenders were available, it took 3-4 hours to thoroughly mix the ingredients; now it takes 2-3 minutes. We used an old blender since we wouldn't trust it inside a soup pan again.

We replaced the essential oils and dye with some fresh lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodorathat we shredded into the mixture with the hand blender.

Poured the mixture into two IKEA silicone backing molds to make it easier to unmould. You can also pour it into molds that will make individual soap bars.

And finally covered the molds with a chopping board and towels to keep it warm during the saponification process. Most recipes say you can cut your soap in slices after 24 hours but we will leave it a few days longer. It will then need to cure for about four weeks to be ready to use. We'll update this post after our first bath with homemade soap! Let's hope it's as good as the 8$ version.