Monday, January 31, 2011

Upgrading a Markins Ball Head with a Really Right Stuff Clamp


My wife has a saying that she likes to give to brides-to-be, it goes; "Don't buy you man anything you can't afford the accessories for". So true. She bought me a Nikon D70s DSLR and a lens, from which I suddenly found I needed more lenses, a flash, a handful of filters, remotes and a tripod and ballhead.

Like you, I read a few dozen articles on buying tripods and ball heads and I finally made my decision. If you haven't read anything, or would like to read some more, I strongly encourage you to read Thom Hogan's Tripod 101 article, the Nikonians Article on Tripods, the Nikonians Article on Markins, as well as this comparison. Seem's as though I am biased on Gitzo and Markins, but I can also recommend Really Right Stuff products - amazing quality - a step up on Gitzo Tripods and Markins Heads in my humble opinion.

Personally I have Gitzo GT-2531 legs and a Markins Q-Ball M-10 head. I love them both, they are quality products, will last a long time but, I have one small complaint - the screw knob on the clamp of the head is a pain. It's just too slow to use in the field and top loading is non-existent. So I decided it was time to upgrade to a Really Right Stuff B2 Lever Release II 60 mm clamp with dual mount. At $120 I winced a little, but once I had it in hand and was reminded of the quality of RRS's engineering, I was ok with the purchase price. I also got the 3/8-16 stud they recommended.


The technique described below will most likely void your warranty. I tried and tried to use leverage to remove the clamp before thinking through the process and coming up with using heat. No doubt if you used excessive force or heat you will damage the finish of your ball head, as well as possibly deforming the shape of it. So be careful, you've spent enough money getting here and I'm not willing to answer to your angry wife because you ruined a $400 precision ball head. This technique also depends on heating up metal to decompose the threadlocking glue. Which means you can potentially burn yourself on an open flame or hot metal so be careful.

What You Will Need

RRS B2 LR II clamp
RRS 3/8-16 stud ** I never used mine - read why below **
A blow-torch of some description, I used this one but you could use a larger model with due care.
Some thick leather gloves or even better welding gloves.
Loctite 242 or Permatex blue.

A piece of wood to clamp in the jaws of the clamp or,
A very large adjustable wrench

So Here Goes

First up, I apologize, normally I put many more photo's up but all I had was my iPhone at the time and most were not very good so I wont post them. Below is my tripod & head. First thing you will want to do is tighten the lock mechanism down. It's going to need to be tight enough to hold the ball while you manually unscrew the clamp by hand.

**Don't tighten down the panning base as it's not designed to hold the forces you would otherwise put on it**

Use a propane torch to work at heating up the stainless steel bolt that holds the clamp to the ball head. I was very cautiously and worked in a slow circular motion to try any evenly distribute the heat. Keep in mind that the steel bolt will heat at a slower rate compared to the aluminum clamp because of a difference in heat capacity, so be patient as you heat.

Try intermittently to loosen the clamp. This is where you'll need those leather gloves. Turn the clamp counter clockwise when looking from the top. Tighten the ball head if needed.

It took me about 5 minutes to get the threadlock used by Markins hot enough to break down. By the way, my sample had red threadlock on it - medium strength. Hold the ball head with one hand while turning with the other.

Alternates are to have someone hold the ball head with both hands (and gloves) while you unscrew the clamp, or, clamp a thin piece of wood in the screw clamp for leverage, or use a large adjustable wrench to give that extra bit of leverage. Use a brass or steel brush to remove the excess glue. Be careful not to ruin the nice finish of your ball head.

**When I got mine off, something unexpected happened, the threaded stud connecting the ball head to the clamp remained in the ball. There should not be anything wrong with this. I simply put threadlock on the exposed and cleaned threads and screwed the RRS lever clamp on. Don't crank the clamp tight, rather snug it on and then let the threadlock set for 24-48 hours.

Job done. I should note, that even though I was very careful the bubble level in the Markins screw clamp still gave way under the expansion due to heat. It's really only a problem if your going to reuse the clamp for something else. It's almost like you have a new tripod ;-)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kitty Playland


This DIY project is a little different from the previous posts on this blog. Being a cat owner, I have to be mindful of the occasional couch or carpet scratching. Obviously we don't want our furniture turned into expensive scratching posts. Like other cat owners I have bought cheaper scratching posts that don't really satisfy the need to scratch for the cats and quickly end up being ignored. I have also walked the isles of my local Pet Shop and seen the expensive cat playland's thinking it would be great if it weren't so expensive, some of them running up to $300.

Credit for this design is shared by a friend (Brandon) and myself. We realized that we could build our own super-sized playland for a fraction of the price, especially if we were resourceful. The model built here is about the 5th or 6th one I have built, the design always changes depending on different requirements but the construction principles remain the same. Feel free to modify the dimensions to your own taste. Below is a more accurate drawing of what is built below:


This project involves the use of power tools and sharp objects (screws and staples). Power tools are fun and awesome but if used incorrectly you can cause plenty of bodily harm to yourself as well as others. If you are using power tools that you are not familiar with, get someone with experience to show you how to safely operate them. Make sure you use appropriate safety equipment to protect your eyes and ears.

So Here Goes

What you will need:

: I used a table saw, chop saw, radial arm saw, 18V drill, jigsaw and an electric staple gun. The reason I used so many saws was simply because they were available to me, honestly you could get away with less, but it's dependent on the raw materials you have.

You will also benefit from a tape measure, drill bits, wood glue, clamps, right angle tools, and perhaps some sand paper [80-100 grit].

: The whole motivation here is to save money. For the build here, you will need enough 2x4 to glue together and make three legs, plywood for the shelves, about 2ft of 1x2, carpet scraps, hemp rope, 4" screws, 1.5" screws, wood glue and marking pens. Hopefully you have some of these items lying around. The most I have ever spent making this type of Kitty playland was about $75, the cheapest build was $40 [for the rope only].

If you can find scrap 2x4's, perhaps at a friend or relatives house, or a building site, you can ask if you can have them. For the shelves, I prefer to use 1" ply, but 3/4" plywood will also work. Carpet off-cuts can be had at many places for free, although I noticed more places are charging to make as much money as possible in the tough economy. Choose plush carpet over loop as claws can get caught in loop pile. Screw choice is up to you, I will list what I used here, but there are so many options, if you are unsure, ask someone who might know.

The overall dimensions for this playland are below as well as the dimensions for the individual pieces:

Overall [HxWxD]: 36 x 58 x 18
Legs: 34”
Shelves: 36 x 18
Shelf support: ~ 2 x 3.5

Optional: You can make it bigger, smaller, taller, wider, more or less shelves... well you get the idea an I trust you ca design the add-ons yourselves.

Sawing, Gluing and Screwing:

Start with a plan. I drew mine on paper and it took me about 5 minutes. It allowed me to think about specific cuts I needed to make and visualize what I pieces I was going to need. You’ll note the image below is not the same, as I had to modify my design before I got started.

Next, I glued my uncut 2x4’s together with wood glue and some screws to keep everything in place while the glue dried. Once screwed together you can then use a chop saw to cut them to length. Remember, if you don’t know how to use it, ask someone. These saws can take limbs off in seconds.

I used a piece of 1x2 and a clamp as a stop so that all my legs were 34” long. Check to make sure your saw blade isn’t going to hit a screw. 3 cuts later and I had my legs ready.

Next thing is to cut the shelves and the base. I used 1” ply. Using a table saw I set the guard at the desired width of 18” and cut 3 identical pieces.

Now, to mark and cut out the wood where the shelf is going to sit on the leg use a tape measure to find the centre of one side and place the leg on the shelf. Then trace around the leg. I also like to use a speed square to make sure my cuts are square. Since I use scrap wood, which is often bowed a little, I leave 1/8th to ¼ of an inch clearance for later.

Use a jigsaw or even a reciprocating saw to cut out the inserts. Once done you can screw the legs onto the base piece. I like to clamp the base and the middle shelf together, then while insert the legs into the holes you just cut. This is better illustrated by the image above / below. You will want to use a square to keep things at right angles, unless you like that wonky-look to your projects. 3 long screws will do the job.

Once the legs are attached to the base plate, we will want to then mount the middle shelf. To do this, I used 1x2 and cut them with a miter saw. Again, this is a wonderful tool for removing appendages so exercise caution. I cut 7 pieces as outlined below. These pieces can then be attached to the legs to act as a base for the middle shelf to rest on. Use 2” screws.

Before securing the middle shelf down, practice-fit the opt shelf to make sure that everything is fitting together nicely. If it doesn’t, you will need to make some adjustments. If all is good, I would go ahead and secure the top shelf with more of those 3-4” screws used on the bottom shelf.

When done, you will also want to run a few screws from the top-side of the middle shelf to secure it down. That should be it for the frame. Now it is time to cut out the holes that the cat’s can climb through. Really you only need to do the top shelf as most cat’s will ignore your carefully cut hole in the middle shelf and jump straight to the middle or top shelf. Use a square and measure your hole. You will want it to clear the legs by at least an inch.

Drill a pilot hole or two and have at it with your favorite handheld saw of destruction. Your work should leave you with something looking like this:

It’s now time to get to covering. I find it is easier to roughly cut a piece of carpet to the size you want it, then start stapling down. Once it is secure at one side, pull hard and staple on the opposite side. Then use the knife to trim up. There is nothing hard about it, it just takes time and patience.

The second to last step is to put some kind of covering over the legs. I have used carpet, but I have found that cheap hemp rope from your local hardware store offers durability and scratchability for the cats. I used 6 rolls on this one. After making several of these I finally found a quick way that doesn’t leave your hands raw. Take the rope and loosely wrap as much of it around a leg as you can. Then use both hands to tighten several strands at a time. Think of it as holding a basketball and then twisting at your wrists. You will get several strands tightened in one movement and cut down on handling.

Finally you can bring your creation in for your cats to enjoy. My cat’s just about wet themselves with excitement when they saw what I had. They recognized it (they’ve had 2 before) and couldn’t wait to get on it. As you can see below my cat actually couldn’t wait any longer and got on it before I had even moved it to it’s location.

So there you have it. It’s a cheap and easy project that will save you some money and your cat’s will actually love it and use it, as opposed to so many expensive store bought pieces of cat-furniture.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fixing Broken Plastic Nikon F-Mounts

There are more than a couple Nikkor lenses out there that for some reason Nikon decided to use a plastic lens mount instead of a metal mount. Models include the 18-55 DX and 55-200 DX in both non-VR and VR variants. It doesn't take much more than an accidental drop or knock and the plastic tabs will break off and the lens wont be able to mount to the camera body. Luckily this is pretty easy to fix. Searching around after doing this I found similar repair guides written up here and here.

I should make a short disclaimer that performing this kind of minor surgery on your lens yourself will most likely result in any warranty you once had to be void. In addition, any damage you my cause is not my responsibility. You should take due caution to be careful to not damage your lens including covering the glass lens elements as needed.

So Here Goes

What you will need:

Spare Part
: I gave the Nikon Parts Department a call (number is at the bottom of the link btw). A friendly Nikon service rep answered the call and helped me. A few days later my part arrived at my door stop. $15 all up.

Tools: #0 and #00 Phillips head screwdriver. If you dont have these, a precision screwdriver set is readily available from Amazon for less than $10.

Optional: Second set of hands will prove helpful for the reassembly process.

The replacement F-mount is a plastic unit, just like the broken one. It has an attached cable and a thin piece of plastic that protrudes out for a few cm, make sure you note where that plastic comes from when you remove the old bayonet mount.

Figure 1. Nikon 1C999-601-2 replacement plastic bayonet mount.

Place the lens with the mount pointing up. Looking at the F-mount, you will see 3 large screws (all three visible in Figure 2). I used my #0 Philips head to remove them. I put them on a piece of paper and labeled them to make sure I remembered where they came from.

Figure 2. The old lens mount with broken tabs.

Next its time to remove the screws from the collar. Note there are two sizes here (Figure 3). I removed the medium screws with a #0 and the smaller with a #00 Philips head. Again, separating them on a labeled piece of paper makes reassembly that much easier. Admittedly if you it wouldn't be too hard to figure out where they go if you did mix them up.

Figure 3. Screws on the collar. From memory there were two medium and 3 small screws.

Now its time for the fun part. Using gentle force you can remove the center most ring. Next the tab that houses the electric contacts can be removed. It's attached to a ribbon cable so all you need to do is gently lift and remove. The tension of the cable will pull the piece downward. Let it rest inside the lens. Next is time to remove the plastic bayonet mount. This piece is attached to a small cable you will need to unscrew (#00 Philips screwdriver).

Figure 4. Removal of the plastic bayonet mount.

Unscrew the cable from the old bayonet lens mount and attach it to the replacement unit. I found that juggling the small cable (which is spring loaded), holding the bayonet and screw driver easier with a second set of hands. No doubt you could do it on your own though...

Figure 5. Transplanting the internal cable from the old mount to the new. Kudos to my mate Kevin for being the extra hands.

Once done, the new bayonet can be put in its new home. Make sure to line everything up and pay special attention to the two metal shims under the bayonet which may have moved during the surgery. They can only go one way. I used my small screwdriver to help line everything up.

Figure 6. Lining up the shims before putting the bayonet in its new home.

Once that's done, screw it in place with the large screws. Next, the tab holding the electircal contacts can be gently lifted back in place. It should lock into it's home position. The final piece to go back on the lens is the center ring. There are two ways to put this back on. First method is to put the ring back in place and use a screwdriver to push the aperture controlling tab into position (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Moving the aperture control tab with a screwdriver.

The second method is easier. Simply use the gap made for the tab on the center ring to push the aperture control tab forward as you slide and push down the whole center ring down, locking it into place. It is much easier to do, than it is for me to explain. I think Figure 8 shows the process reasonably well.

Figure 8. Second method for putting the center ring back in place.

All you need to do now is put all the screws back into the lens and you have successfully repaired your lens. After I was finished I noticed that a stray finger had made its way onto the rear glass element. A quick brush and polish with a lens pen will take care of this.

Figure 9. Finish up the repair with a good cleaning.

Put it back on your Nikon SLR camera body and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fan Modding My Time Capsule

In my opinion Apple's Time Capsule (TC) is a fantastic little product. Since obtaining one in late 2009 I have not had to worry about the hassle of backing up both computers in our house as they are made wirelessly using Apple's built in Time Machine software. I could harp on about how much I like the Time Machine / Capsule combo but that's not the point of this post.

At the time of purchasing I was unaware of the major flaw in the TC's design: it's cooling system is rubbish and as a result, the device runs hot, shortening the life of the power supply. In my crude temperature measurements, during a 4 GB backup, I measured the surface temperature of the white plastic cover - directly over the power supply to be 109F / 43C. I think I have felt it even hotter in the past but with no measurements I can't back this up. There is a fix however, to modify the case so that adequate ventilation can cool down the heat generating power supply.

Credit for the modifications you see here belongs to LaPastenague*(Ray Haverfield) and Chris Fackrell**. Please visit their links for the original information I based my repair on. Both of these gentlemen offer a Time Capsule repair service if you live in Australia (Ray - LaPastenague) or the UK (Chris). Another excellent resource for information is the Apple Support Discussions.

I should make a short disclaimer that neither aforementioned or I are responsible for any damages you cause to your own TC or yourself should you choose to repair or modify it yourself. I imagine the moment you open the enclosure, if not when you drill the holes you will void any warranty you have remaining on your TC. Also, if you are not familiar with working with electrical devices and components you should either take the time to learn about them, get a professionals help or don't proceed any further. There is the possibility to seriously hurt or kill yourself with electricity.

So Here Goes
First things first I unplugged the TC and carefully placed it upside down on a towel to protect the original finish.

Figure 1. Under side of the Apple Time Capsule.

Since the TC was already hot, the silicon boot on the underside came off easy. Using gentle peeling action the mat came off easily and revealed the 10 screws needed to expose the TC's working internals. A few moments with a screw driver and I had the back-plate off. The plug for the fan can be easily removed by pulling it out.

Figure 2. Fan that is included in the Time Capsule. It's aimed directly at the hard drive, 90 degrees away from where it's needed most...

Being eager to modify something, I got hold of my trusty sharpie and marked the locations for the holes for the screws that fasten the back plate. There are ten screws...

Figure 3. Using a Sharpie to mark out the holes to punch.

To make the cleanest holes I chose to use a hole punch based on Chris Fackrell's recommendations. It just so happened that scrapbookers often use a tool like the one below and since my wife is a scrapbooker she happened to have one in her toolkit. She got it from the local craft store for less than $5, including two tips, one being ~5 mm diameter. Remove the silicon mat from the aluminum back-plate again and place it on a sacrificial surface like a piece of scrap wood. Take your time to line up everything so you do a good job.

Figure 4. Hole punch with exchangeable tips.

Next up, I removed the fan on the TC back-plate. If you haven't already done so, remove the fan power plug and then detach the fan by pushing the rubber grommets through with a 2 mm allen key, from outside of the the base-plate.

Figure 5. Approach for removing the fan from the back-plate.

Once the fan was off I used my trusty sharpie to mark out where I wanted the hole for the fan inlet. I drew lines as shown in the figure below so that the new hole would line up nicely with the inlet of the fan.

Figure 6. Use a punch to make a dent in the base-plate (I used an old screw) to make a clean pilot hole.

Once marked out, I clamped the base-plate and the silicon boot to some wood and drilled away. I used a 40 mm hole saw.

Figure 7. Clamping assembly for hole drilling. What a great excuse for using power tools...

Recommendation: If I could do this again, I would have done the following: used some scrap paper and tape and to protect the small holes during drilling. I didn't do it and subsequently spent 30 minutes with a pair of tweezers picking off metal shards from the sticky silicon boot.

Figure 8. Dozens of little metal shards that need to be removed because I didn't cover up the little holes in the base-plate.

After drilling I used a file and some sand paper to finish off the hole. I also took the precaution to wash the base-plate to remove any unseen shards.

Figure 9. All done! Next step is to do the electrics...

The next step in the whole process is to modify the wiring for the TC fan so that the fan is always on. The explicit instructions for this process can be found at LaPastenague's site. I chose to enlist the help of a friend to do the soldering. Rob did a stellar job for me, much appreciated!

Figure 10. Rob working on putting the resistors in the 5V fan line.

Rob had two 1/2 watt 100 ohm resistors (50 ohm actual) that he wired in parallel and soldered to the 5V line.

Figure 11. Two 100 ohm resistors wired in parallel.

We cut the two center wires to the fan plug and wired in the resistors. Once wired in, Rob did a nice job of heat shrinking over the resistors. We ended up adding about 20 mm extra length to the 5V side just to allow a more easy fit when reassembling.

Figure 12. Half of the fan modification is now complete. Next is to seal up one side...

Next up was to put something in place to protect the fan from little fingers. I cut out the protective grill shown below from an old power supply. Some mod's I have seen mount mesh or grills on the inside of the enclosure, I chose to mount it on the outside so that should something happen, the grill can't dislodge and move around in the enclosure. To direct the fans output to the power supply, you will need to tape over the outlet as shown below. I used packing tape taped to itself to make my cover.

Figure 13. Template for sealing one side of the fan.

Figure 14. Fan mod. The white patches were the well intended insulation.

A bit more electrical tape and the job was done. I added in some small foam pockets to my job. Perhaps for my own peace of mind, my thinking was it would isolate the fan from the circuit board below. Then I realized there was one more step to go.

As Chris Fackrell shows on his page, you need to shorten the rubber grommets that were originally holding the fan to the base-plate. This is easier than I thought, it's removing them that's a pain. I used a little Vaseline, a 1.5 mm Allen key and a lot of patience. Gently work the the small end of the grommet out. Be patient and you'll eventually get it.

To do the shortening mod, you'll need scissors and Crazy Glue (or any cyanoacetate super glue). I cut 5 mm out of the grommets and glued the two halves back together with Crazy Glue. This mod will keep the fan close to the base-plate and away from the circuit boards.

Figure 15. Shortened rubber grommets.

Insert the grommets back in the fan first, then use a small Allen key to push the fat end of the grommet through the base plate. The fan can be reconnected to the connector on the board and you should see the fan start up when you plug in the mains power.

Just for fun I thought I would see how much air is being blown. Using my Anemometer (for kiting) I measured a steady flowrate of 2 m/s. I also measured the external temperatures of the unit after it had been running for a while. I used a personal thermometer. This is probably not the greatest device to use for the mod but it gave me a relative change showing that the fan mod worked.

Figure 16. Anemometer measuring a flowrate of 2.0 m/s out of the modified fan.

If I put my hands near the upper vents on the outside of the TC I can feel a small amount of air movement. A good sign that heat's being removed by convection!

Figure 17. Exterior surface temperature of my modded Time Capsule.

Before the modification I saw temperatures of 109 F/ 43 C, possibly higher. A few days after the mod, the temperature seems to be stable between 94-98F / 34-36 C. Overall, I am really happy with the final result. I have the capacitors tucked away in case the power supply does crap out yet. I'll update here if I make any further changes.

Update** - I forgot to post these pics. Below you can see the holes punched for the TC base plate as well as the fan opening.

Figure 18. Time Capsule base plate and fan-mod opening.

I eventually used some stick-on feet from a local hardware store.

Figure 19. The final product working happily away.

Once again, I would like to say thanks to Ray Haverfield (LaPastenague) and Chris Fackrell for offering up their time and information to make it possible for people like me to do this themselves.