Category: Making & Fixing

How to Carve a Dragon Pumpkin

pumpkinI really need to make things more often. This was just a pumpkin carving, but it still scratched a deep psychological itch or two… more on that in a minute.

After carving a “normal” jack-o-lantern, I tried to prompt Sydney to think of something special to do for the other. Kitty? Witch? Quickly fired up and started doing searches like “kitty pumpkin carving” and “frozen pumpkin carving”.

Olaf from Frozen almost won the day… until I remembered that she was pretty much infatuated with Toothless from “How to Train Your Dragon”. Found a picture of a Toothless pumpkin, and the squeal was immediate. Score.

Next step: Googled “Toothless how to train your dragon pumpkin stencil”. Didn’t think I’d find the same one that had just made Sydney jump up and down, but sometimes the stars just align.

If you’re interested, it’s the 5th image here:

The Interwebz rule.

The Actual Carving

I had never attempted to carve a specific image on a pumpkin before, so this was all new to me. Which is why I loved it.

Printed out that pattern, and taped it on the pumpkin. Somehow I had to transfer the lines to the pumpkin skin… hmm… Toothpick? Broke after two pokes. Knife? mangled the paper without giving a good transfer. Considered grabbing an awl from the shop (might do that next time) but then a paperclip magically appeared in a sunbeam, and I had my transfer tool. Unfolded just a bit, a paperclip does a great job of poking small but visible holes through the pattern into a pumpkin skin.

So take a few minutes, and poke your way around the pattern… poking on the side that you will cut away (within the black in the case of this template). Go nice and tight where the pattern is detailed; and feel free to space it out 1/2″ or so where it’s not (like the outline of the containing oval in this pattern).

Remove your pattern, and it’s carving time.

YMMV, but I had the best luck using a sharp paring knife in conjunction with a small serrated tomato knife.

Follow the pattern carefully with the paring knife, cutting in about 1/4″ to 1/2″ around a section, and then go back and start removing “fill” until you have a notch following the patter nicely. Then use the serrated knife to plunge through and get rid of the “dead” area… and come back and clean up with the paring knife.

It takes a bit of time and care, but working out exactly how to use the tools to do the job is one of the joys of any new project like this.

Doing the tiny bits (nose, mouth in my case) were particularly nerve-racking.

Making Rules

This family activity quickly devolved into me working alone while Sydney played outside. No matter; she helped come up with the idea and was thrilled with the result… and I go to experience a solid hour (yeah, it took me an hour. bite me) of zen-like focus with tools in my hand, a new challenge to overcome, and in the end a tiny little piece of art created.

I need to do more of this. Like every day.

Perhaps just a sketch, or a blog post… but I find that I always feel better when I have made something.

Lots of people know what they love but don’t do it. Seriously… it sounds absurd, but how many times have you heard something along the lines of “oh, I’d love to do XXX, but I just don’t have the time.”

Well, if it’s truly important, you make time. Otherwise you make excuses.

Prioritizing what truly matters to you is the key to an epic life. It sounds simple, but most people just don’t do it.

Go for it.

How To: Keep your Bath Fresh and Dry with a Fan Timer

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 11.40.34 AM

But not like this… ugly!

Ever leave the fan on in the bathroom “just for a minute” and realize three hours later that it’s still running? Me too.

Thing is, that might be costing you more than you think…

You see, when you’re moving air from the bathroom to the outside, replacement air has to come from somewhere (otherwise you’d end up with a perfect vacuum in your house, which would be nifty but not exactly conducive to breathing.)

The replacement air comes from outside your house, through gaps in windows, doors, etc… and if you’re running your A/C (or heater) that air then needs to be cooled (or heated).

Long story short, when you leave the bathroom fan on you end up running your A/C more, which is the single biggest component of your electric bill.

So let’s fix that while giving you one less thing to remember to do!


Welcome to my first “Handyman Sunday” post

Seems like I’m always fixing or improving little things around the house… I’m a huge fan of those upgrades that pay for themselves while making life just a little bit better.

Sometimes it takes quite a bit of work to figure out what to do, source things, do the install (which always has at least one hiccup), etc… so in the interest of saving you time, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so that you don’t have to.


Today’s Project: Installing a bathroom fan timer

Why: Keep the bathroom fresh and dry while saving money

Time: 20 minutes or so

Skills: (a) know where your circuit breaker is (b) basic comfort with working with electrical wires

Sourcing: It took me a while to find these. The first few searches I tried only gave me rotary dial ones like at the top of this post. No way that would pass the wife test… those scream “rest stop toilet”. Fugly.

The only one I found that is reasonably attractive is the AKDT60 / AKDT63 from Air King. The model numbers were confusing at first… but as I interpret their spec sheet, you want the 63 model because that has a 3-position switch: that is, you can manually force “off” without waiting for the timer to expire. Better for home use.

The white ones are available on Amazon here; the ivory model is AKDT63i which is on Amazon here. These are also on


So let’s dive right in!


You just need a few basic tools; I used a phillips & regular screwdriver, needle nose pliers, and a razor. If you have a pair of wire strippers that’s even better.

Oh, and this is definitely easier if you have a headlamp… I absolutely love my Petzl Tikka. Use it all the time.

Pro tip: if there is a furnace vent in the floor anywhere near your switches, cover it with a box… at some point you will drop a screw.



The switch is about 1.5 inches deep; take a look before ordering and make sure your wall box is sufficiently deep.



Once you’ve cut off the circuit breaker (test it! be sure!) it’s time to pop off the cover plate and unscrew the old fan switch.

After taking it out, I realize that I need to get at those bundles of wires in the back… so all three need to come out.

Go ahead and take the old fan switch off entirely… and grab the screws off that switch to use with the new AKD switch, because the screws they provided are crap.



Everything pulled out, old switch removed, ready to wire it up.

Here’s where the instructions that are included in the box fall short… they assume that you are probably using one switch to control *both* the light and the fan, and barely mention the other option (use this just for the fan; you already have a separate switch for your light, right??) They’re also a bit vague on exactly what wire goes where. I’ll clarify.

Blue: As long as you are indeed using this switch only for the fan, cap off the blue wire on the AKD63  — you don’t need it.

White: Find the big bundle of white wires in the back of your switch box; the white wire from the AKD63 goes there. Just unscrew the big wire nut, make sure enough wire is exposed on the new white wire, wrap it around the others, and re-secure the existing wire nut.

Red: This is where you need to look closely into your wall box. You took two black wires off the old switch when you took it out. One of them probably goes to a bundle of black wires inside your wall box; the other goes — by itself — to one of the “ports” on the wall box. The one that goes off by itself is the one that goes directly to your fan… and that’s the one you attach the red AKD63 wire to.

Black: The other black wire you took off the old switch, which probably runs to a bundle of wires inside the wall box — that’s your wire.

Note: if you *don’t* have a bundle of black wires inside the wall box, you might have to use trial and error to figure out which one should be connected to red and which should be connected to black.



One you have everything secured with wire nuts, make sure none of the switches are near to each other or anything else they could short out on, and have your toddler turn on the circuit breaker for you (kidding).

Test things out, before reinstalling, to make sure your connections are all good. Just handle very carefully while there are exposed wires!

If the “on” position works but the “timer” position does not, your white wire is probably loose. If that fails, try switching red and black (if you’re not positive that those were right). If all that fails, you may have a defective unit… I did, and had to ask for a replacement.


With everything verified as working, cut off the circuit breaker one more time and start reinstalling in the wall box.

Push existing wires as out of the way as possible to make room for the AKD63 — in my case, I pushed them to the left as much as I could. Reinstall the other switch(es) first, thread the wire nuts attached to the AKD63 into some free space, and then install the AKD63 itself.

Set the time you want the fan to run before putting on the wall plate, of course!


Final Thoughts

Some quick back of the envelope math tells me that these will pay for themselves within two years. Assuming they last much longer than that, it’s totally worth doing in my opinion.

One of my two units was defective; hopefully that is an anomaly. They did get pretty good reviews on Amazon.

I don’t know why they designed the switch to look different from the outside… it would be so much better if they made it look like every other switch on the planet. These will often be used right next to another switch in a multi-gang box; why make it stick out like a sore thumb?

So far, these rock! Just leave the bathroom after your shower, flip everything down, and the fan runs for ~20 minutes to dry out the bathroom, then cuts off. Pretty sweet!


So what do you think? Ready to install a couple and make your bathroom a wee bit better?


Need anything from Amazon? Buy through this link and you will support my blog. Sincere thanks!

Macbook adapter surgery: success!


A couple of weeks ago I bought a replacement adapter for the household computers. The old one gave up the ghost; internal problem of some sort. So I popped on down to the Apple store.

$79 for a replacement; ouch.

But, I do really like being able to charge the computers while on the couch, and I was already there… so I gritted my teeth and ponied up.

Two days later, the dog decided that new cords are delicious. And just like that, it’s time to say goodbye to the dog. (Well, not really; but the thought did cross my mind.)

So. Given that I already decided that I need an adapter in the family room, what to do?

The default response would be to swear a few times, plunk down another $80, and figure out how to make the dog leave it alone (I’m thinking pepper spray).

But there is a more badass solution. Repair it!

A quick Googling turned up instructions for replacing the cord. 5 minutes on Amazon and we find the exact OEM part, for a whopping total of $7.39 including shipping.


Well dang… for 1/10 the cost, I just couldn’t justify doing it the lazy way… no, to retain the rights to my man-card I had to at least attempt electronic surgery. I buy the cord from Amazon and it’s on.

A few days later, a padded envelope arrives from China. Direct. From Friggin China.

I follow the gist of the instructions I had Googled, and within literally 15 minutes I have the adapter back together with the new cord in place. Plug it in… green LED… Score!

$80? Screw that… $8 and good as new. I guess the dog can stay.


Two things:

1) How insanely cool is the world we live in? When you can find a detailed walkthrough on almost any repair or build project in minutes, and when you can order a single, specific, OEM part delivered to your door FROM FRIGGIN CHINA for a whopping $7.39 including shipping. It’s truly an amazing time to be alive.

2) Fixing (or building) things is way more satisfying than buying. It makes the master of your environment, in complete command of the things that might otherwise own you. Once you start, it’s kind of addictive… I’ve got a couple of future projects percolating in the old Thinkolator already.

Got an adapter needing a new cord? Give me a buzz… this was a fun repair. I’d do it again.