Friday, January 19, 2018

Swing and a miss...

It was nineteen below zero yesterday morning in the wasteland I call home.  This afternoon I filled out two job applications in a city that was sixty.  I don’t need eighty five and a beach but living someplace where the cha-ching of the gas meter turning doesn’t keep me awake at night seems kinda nice.

When we last talked I had just gotten the frame for my solar panels built and I had turned down Number One Son’s offer to have a friend powder coat it.  Yeah, I totally should have had this solar panel rack powder coated.  Instead I elected to spray paint it myself which turned out to be a pretty huge job really.  Getting good coverage in all the nooks and crannies with spray paint seemed to be impossible.  The expanded metal had all these inside edges which needed paint.  So painting the frame was a job that sucked but I didn’t know what was coming next.

Four holes drilled through the roof
of the van.
With delays and rain storms and running out of paint and even more trips to the hardware store, the process of painting the rack took about three weeks.  Finally though I had it ready enough.  Like I said before, I could have sprayed another dozen cans onto this frame.  The coat of paint on it is thin and seems to chip easy but I had enough.  I wanted to move on.

I had number one son stop over and between the two of us we lifted the painted frame up onto the van.    I made one last trip to the hardware store and picked up a whole bunch of U bolts, washers and nuts along with a few drill bits to fit.  Drilling steel it is much easier to have a nice sharp new bit.

Along with having the frame built I bought some 12ft long sticks of 1-1/4” square steel tubing.  This is the same material we built the pipe holder out of.  These sticks I drilled with holes just fore and aft of the cross braces of the roof rack.  Then I ran a U bolt through the holes and over the cross brace.  Flat washers and lock washers both for this application.  The idea here is to let these be the platform for the rack to set down on.  I spaced three of them somewhat equally across the space from the frame attachment ears over to the upright on the passenger side of the roof rack.

Cutting between the holes to make the hole
to attach the faring.
Once I got these in place I bungie corded the frame attachment ears in place, then I tipped the frame up and braced it up.   Then  went inside the van and made the final decisions on where I wanted the solar wires coming down into the van.  I measured and marked the four corners of a little faring I bought.  I drilled out the four corners with a bit large enough to allow my jig saw blade to pass through.

Back up on the roof I used my portable jigsaw to connect the dots and cut this square out.  I layered up a good double thickness ribbon of the butyl tape on the edge of the hole.  I drilled several holes around the edge of the faring then attached it with some half inch self taping sheet metal screws.  Drawing it down until the butyl tape was squeezing out from all the way around.

With this all done, I tipped the frame back down and undid the bungie cords.  Then attached more U bolts to attach the ears to the roof rack.  As a final step I used some strapping to attach my six inch PVC pipe.  My frame was all in place.

All set to drop my panels in and hook them up.  This is all really going great.  How often have you just finished saying that when everything goes to shit?

The U bolt I used to attach the frame.
Here is my best explanation for what went wrong.  The damn thing shrank.  No really.   Metal shrinks and expands with heat.  The expanded metal must have been hot from the grinder cutting it before it was welded in place.  Anyway the middle area of the frame where the expanded metal was attached was bowed in almost half an inch.  The Welder stopped by and with a grinding tool cut a slit in the expanded metal.  That helped a lot but not really quite enough.   It was a crazy deal.  We had those solar panels installed in place when he originally tack-welded the frame together.  Then we pulled them out so they wouldn’t get damaged by sparks and he finished welding it up.

With the cut expanded metal the panels almost fit in but I am a woodworker.  If something is a 16th off, you just run a belt sander across it a couple of times.  In metal it doesn’t work out that way.  Another couple of weeks had to go by for the stars to all align, then Number one son took the van out to the shop and they cut it apart and welded it back together.  I guess it took a couple of tries to get it right.  I was pretty happy The Welder considered this a warranty job.

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