House of Hacks

Friday, July 3, 2020

How To Make A Sewing Room Cutting Table


In this episode of the House of Hacks, Harley takes you on the journey from idea to finished product to show how to make a sewing room cutting table.

You might also like the video How to Make a Sewing Table

Sign up for a 30-day free Audible trial and get 2 books that are yours to keep, even if you don’t continue past the trial. (Affiliate link)
The Art of War by Steven Pressfield (Affiliate link)
Atomic Habits by James Clear (Affiliate link)


Stay connected with what's happening here at the House of Hacks by signing up for our newsletter

Here at House of Hacks we do tutorials, project overviews, tool reviews and more related to making things around the home and shop. Generally this involves wood and metal working, electronics, photography and other similar things. If this sounds interesting to you, you may subscribe here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the House of Hacks' values, here’s a playlist for you.

And here’s the most recent video.

For a written transcript, go to How To Make A Sewing Room Cutting Table

Here's a list of the tools I use.

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 4.0 by Kevin MacLeod at
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing"




I have had that cutting table top for more than 20 years since before we moved here. And it's really hard letting go because I've had it so long... But, I'm getting a much better one and I'm can't wait! It's happening today!!

I think she's pretty excited there! That was some unplanned video that I found when I was reviewing the footage.

If we’re just meeting, I’m Harley, that was my wife, and this is the House of Hacks where I make stuff out of a variety of materials.

In today’s episode we're going to be looking this cutting table that I made for my wife’s sewing room. It's primarily woodworking, but I also want to touch a little bit on some of the resistance we run into when creating things.

In a previous video, I showed how I made a table for my wife’s sewing machine out of largely recycled materials. In this video, we're going to be doing the same for her cutting table.

Overall design

The ends are filing cabinets that my previous employer was throwing away. And they're attached to a base that's primarily 2x4s and some plywood. This serves to hold the cabinets together so they don't move around and also to provide a little bit of a toe kick.

The cabinets were designed to go underneath desks in cubicles, and so they're designed to have things attached to the top which works perfectly for this application with the table top.

Back here in the middle, my wife wanted to use these cabinets that were designed for maps and blueprints. And here we can see see they’re stacked together, they're a couple inches taller than the filing cabinets on the end, so the design will have to account for that.

Since this table is right behind her sewing machine work area, she wanted this one corner to have a cutout in it to accommodate her serger. That adds a little bit of complexity to the overall design.

So, I took some measurements, got the materials and started to work.

Initial Construction

I started with an 4x8 sheet of plywood. This was several inches larger than I needed on both the length and the width and so cut it down to size.

As I did this, I sliced it off in thin strips. I then glued and tacked these strips to the bottom side edges of the table top to give a little more substance for the edge banding to attach to. I mounted these a little bit proud of the edge so when the glue dried, I could use a router bit to make the edges flush.

My wife has some poplar trim in her sewing room, so I cut some banding out of this for the edges to:
  • improve the looks,
  • protect the exposed plies of the plywood and
  • to tie the different elements of her room together.

I then glued and tacked the banding to the edge of the top.

And then the project sat.. and sat… and sat.


I ran smack dab into what Steven Pressfield in The War of Art calls “Resistance.”

Eventually I did get going on it it again.

Steven Pressfield sees Resistance as an invisible inner force that keeps us from exercising our genius, from doing the thing that we were born to do. In the book. he talks about the various forms this can take and different ways of overcoming it.

As a Christian, I don’t know that I completely agree with all the things he talks about. In particular, he talks about praying to his Muse. That doesn’t fit within my faith framework.

But the part about Resistance being a force opposing the creative process does resonate with me. He seems to see it as an impersonal force within ourselves that we have to overcome. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.

I believe we are each made in God’s image and part of that is being imbued with creativity. We’re creative because He is creative.

In what follows, I don’t have any scripture for this. It’s based more on general spiritual principles than direct scriptural support, so don’t take it as doctrine. It’s just musing on my part.

I think Steven is right in that there may be psychological, internal reason we face Resistance when creating things. But I can also see Resistance as being a tool the Enemy of our Soul uses to keep us from doing the very things that God has created us to do. He's always trying to stymie God's plans and purposes in our lives. I think this may be one of the ways he does it.

I suspect it’s probably some combination of the two, both the psychological and the external, and the ratio probably varies from one person to the next.

Habits to overcome Resistance

I started a new job at the beginning of the year and now have a longer commute. To make use of that time, I subscribed to Audible and have listened to a number of books that have been on my reading list for quite a while, The War of Art being one of them.

Another one I listened to is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I found it interesting that some of the things James talks about in forming habits dovetail nicely with some of the strategies Steven talks about in overcoming Resistance.

If you’re interested in using your drive time, or chore time, or any other time where you could listen to a book, sign up at the Audible link below. It’s a 30 day free trial where you get two audible books that are yours to keep, even if you don’t continue past the trial period. Or if you’re already an Audible subscriber, there’s a direct link to both these books below too.

Final construction

Getting back to the project, under the plywood, the table top has a skirt that is boxed in on each end.

The boxes serve multiple purposes:
  • they add rigidity to the whole top,
  • they provide a mounting spot to attach to the cabinets and
  • they fill the space difference between the two types of cabinets.

The bottom of the boxes are made with a thinner plywood and have t-nuts in them to attach to the filing cabinets. The thinner plywood also acts as a top in the serger cutout.

After it was all assembled, I painted the main field and then put a polyurethane top coat over the paint, the edge banding and skirt.

Finished product

With a little help, putting it in place was simply a matter of taking out the old top and placing the new one in its place. And a bolt on each corner keeps it from sliding around.

Join me in this video where I show how I put made the table for my wife's sewing machine. And down here is a playlist of other sewing room related projects.

Thanks for joining me on our creative journey, long as it may take some times.

Now, go make something.

Perfection isn't required.

Fun is!

Friday, June 19, 2020

What are the Undocumented Outlet Tester Light Meanings? Examining All Combinations


Someone asked in the comments of a previous video, what all the outlet tester light meanings were. Tester tools typically have a limited space and only explain the most common ways plugs are miswired. In this video, Harley looks at all the different ways a plugs wiring could be messed up and shows what lights the tester shows.

Get an outlet tester of your own: (Affiliate link)


Stay connected with what's happening here at the House of Hacks by signing up for our newsletter

Here at House of Hacks we do tutorials, project overviews, tool reviews and more related to making things around the home and shop. Generally this involves wood and metal working, electronics, photography and other similar things. If this sounds interesting to you, you may subscribe here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the House of Hacks' values, here’s a playlist for you.

And here’s the most recent video.

For a written transcript, go to What are the Undocumented Outlet Tester Light Meanings? Examining All Combinations

Here's a list of the tools I use.

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 4.0 by Kevin MacLeod at
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing"


A number of years ago, I did a video talking about this and how to use it.

It's a 110 outlet tester and it lists 6 different ways that outlets can be miswired and gives you codes for these lights light up.

A couple people commented that they were getting the lights lighting up in ways that weren't documented.

In today's video, I'm going to go through all the different ways, there's 6 listed here but I counted 12 different ways, an outlet could actually be miswired and see what kind of light codes we get for the different ways that they're wired.

If we're just meeting, I'm Harley. Welcome to the House of Hacks.

I make things out of various things here in the workshop.

Sometimes that includes doing 110 wiring, for which these are really handy.

Let's go over to the workbench, see the test setup and then checkout the 12 different combinations and what the lights look like for those.

At the bench here, I have an outlet that's wired correctly and the wires are plugged directly into an outlet.

I do not recommend you do this at home.

There is exposed 110 voltage here.

And there's a high risk of shock, injury and potentially even death.

So, I'm doing this so you don't have to.

Right now, this is plugged in over here in the correct configuration, as we can see from the outlet tester.

I'll go through the 6 different documented ways that the tester will report errors and then I'll go through the 6 undocumented ways and we'll see what the lights look like.

So, hopefully, that will tell us something about what those commenters were asking and give you that information.

OK, here we can see we have correctly wired because our lights are lit up to be correct.

And now we have hot/neutral reversed with the red and orange.

And now we have the open hot with no lights lit whatsoever.

And here we have open neutral with a single orange light.

Here we have a hot/ground reversed configuration.

And here we have the last documented item with an open ground with just a single orange light.

Now let's take a look at what other combinations we have that aren't documented.

Here's a ground/neutral reversed. Interestingly, it doesn't show up any different than a correct.

And here we have an open hot with neutral/ground reversed.

And in this case we don't get any lights because we don't really have any power coming into the tester for it to be able to light anything up with.

OK, this is a very confused situation where we have hot going to neutral and ground and neutral swapped.

OK, here we have a situation where ground and hot are reversed and neutral is open.

Looks like the tester can't detect this situation.

Now this is a really twisted situation here again where nothing is anywhere close to being correct.

Neutral is wired to hot. Hot is wired to ground and ground is wired to neutral.

OK, and here's the last undocumented configuration where ground is open and hot and neutral are reversed.

If you're interested in the video where I talk about how to use one of those outlet testers, it's in this video over here.

Down here is a video that YouTube thinks you'll enjoy.

Until next time, go make something.

Perfection isn't required.

Fun is!








Take a shot for every time I say "Configuration."

Friday, June 12, 2020

How to make a binary clock: design


Want to make an Arduino project a bit more complicated than blink? In today's episode of House of Hacks, Harley starts a project on how to make a binary clock. This project will use an Arduino and be presented in multiple parts. Today, the first part will be the overall requirements and design. In future videos, the software, circuit and finishing it off with an enclosure will be covered.


  • All the information to make this project:
  • If you just want to buy one: (Amazon affiliate link)
  • Get a digital version of the new Arduino poster by signing up for the House of Hacks newsletter:
  • Or a printed copy of the poster can be bought on the House of Hacks store:


  • 0:00 Project introduction
  • 0:59 Welcome and about House of Hacks
  • 1:19 Description of BCD
  • 2:14 BCD for binary clocks
  • 3:05 Project requirements
  • 4:02 Controlling the LEDs
  • 5:45 Tracking the time
  • 6:18 Adjusting the time
  • 7:23 Arduino selection


Here at House of Hacks we do tutorials, project overviews, tool reviews and more related to making things around the home and shop. Generally this involves wood and metal working, electronics, photography and other similar things. If this sounds interesting to you, you may subscribe here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the House of Hacks' values, here’s a playlist for you.

And here’s the most recent video.

For a written transcript, go to How to make a binary clock

Here's a list of the tools I use.

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 4.0 by Kevin MacLeod at
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing"


A number of years ago, at a software conference, one of the evening activities as an outing to a hands-on science museum.

While there, I noticed and picked up this binary clock.

It uses something called BCD encoding and I thought it'd be kind of cool to make my own version of this as a project.

Technically, it could be done with some simple logic circuits and a timer.

But this would involve more hardware design and wiring than I wanted to be involved with and so I'm going to go the easy route and use an Arduino.

This is going to be done in four parts.

Part one today is the basic requirements and design.

Than as I'm waiting for parts to come in, I'll go over the software design and how to actually do some testing without having a complete circuit finished.

The third video I'll assemble all the circuits and get it running.

And then the fourth video will be creating an enclosure for it.

Welcome to the House of Hacks. If we’re just meeting, I’m Harley and I make stuff out a variety of materials.

For example, in this project, we're doing design discussions, and software and electronics and mixed media for the enclosure.

If making a things out of a variety of materials in the workshop is something that's your thing, consider subscribing and you won’t miss future episodes.

BCD is an acronym for Binary Coded Decimal and this was an encoding system that IBM came up with nearly a 100 years ago in the 1920s for use in their early mechanical devices.

As early computers came on the scene, they took this basic coding that they used and expanded upon it to use in the computers.

It was called EBCDIC at the time and was actually used until relatively recently.

Interestingly, early in my career, I had to write an ASCII to EBCDIC conversion routine for use by our business partners.

Before going to the whiteboard, a couple notes.

First, the code and schematics for this project, is available for free download off of GitHub.

And second, a commercial version of this clock, kind of like the one that I picked up at the conference, as well as all the materials I'm using in the project are available on Amazon. I’ll leave links for everything down in the description below.

In BCD, each column represents a decimal digit, coded in binary. The first column is the tens digit for the hours, the second is the units column for the hours. Next, we have the tens and units digits for the minutes and the tens and units digits for the seconds.

In decimal, we need four bits to cover the all digits 0-9 in binary. So all the units columns on the LEDs have four LEDs. Because on a clock, none of the tens digits go all the way to 9, we don’t need a full 4 bits for each of the tens columns. Hours for example only go to 2, so we only need 2 bits for a 24 hour clock. The minutes and seconds only go to five so we only need three bits for those.

So, to make this, what are our requirements?

For the LEDs, we have 3 groups of 4 and 2 groups of 3 for a total of 18 and another 2 for a total of 20 LEDs that we need to control.

Second, we need a way of keeping track of the time.

Third, we need a way to set the time.

I’ll talk about all these requirements in detail but first I’m excited to announce that I’m working on some Arduino training materials. I have an Arduino reference poster available now and am working on a book for people new to digital electronics and programming the Arduino. A digital version of the poster is available by just signing up to the House of Hacks mailing list where I’ll keep you updated on things happening here. I won’t bombard your email with a bunch of stuff. Just occasional updates when products are released and an occasional news item that I think you might find interesting related to making things. If you’re interested in this, there’s a link below in the description below.

Now, back to the design...

Looking at controlling the LEDs, my first inclination was to think about this as a single string of 20 bits where each digit in each group was put inline with the rest of the bits. The common way of working with large numbers of LEDs is to use a '595 based shift register. This only requires three pins on the Arduino but provides a number of digital outputs. This is so commonly used that there’s a shiftOut command built into the Arduino ecosystem. ‘595 chips typically only work with 8 bits (although there are variants that have more bits) but they can be daisy chained together so you can have an almost arbitrary number of digital outputs, all controlled by only three pins.

Since there’s 20 bits needed and each ‘595 provides 8 bits, I thought about using three shift registers, daisy chained together. This would give 8 times 3, or 24, bits. The first 20 bits would be used and the last 4 bits would be ignored.

I coded up a prototype sketch using this idea but it ended up being more messy than I really liked. All the code was one big blob with a bunch of dependencies spread throughout the whole thing. Some of that mess could be cleaned up with some refactoring, but it was still going to be more messy than I really liked.

Upon reflection, I realized each group of two numbers only needs at most 7 bits and I have three groups. For the purposes of this project, I could still use the three ‘595s but instead of daisy chaining them together, I could connect each one to the Arduino directly. This would help make the code cleaner. Each ‘595 needs three pins, so that’d be a total of 9 pins for the LEDs instead of 3. Let’s look at the rest of the requirements and see if there are enough pins.

To track time, the most reliable would be to use a clock module. A real time clock module, also called an RTC, is designed to interface with micro controllers and has it’s own battery backup. There are a number of different models. I selected to use a DS1307 because they can be had inexpensively and communicate with the Arduino using only three pins over the I2C bus.

It would also be possible to use the Arduino itself to track the time although I’m not to sure how accurate that would be. It would provide a software only solution though.

Finally, we need a way to set the time.

The commercial unit I have uses two buttons. One increases the hour each time it’s pressed. The other increases the minute each time it’s pressed and if they’re both pressed at the same time, the seconds are increased.

This could work, but I don’t have any good buttons that’d be appropriate for mounting in an enclosure and, in my spare parts bin, I have a rotary encoder.

Rotary encoders come in different styles. This particular one allows the user to spin it in either direction without any limits. It can also be pressed to indicate an event. The micro controller can detect which direction it’s turned and take appropriate action.

I think this would be easier to make accessible to the user in the enclosure, so I’m going to use it. It uses two pins to the Arduino to communicate the rotary action and one pin to communicate being pressed.

So, all in all, I’m looking at using 9 pins for the three ‘595s, 2 pins for the clock module and 3 pins for the rotary encoder. A total of 14 pins.

Since I want to keep this pretty compact, I’m going to select the Arduino Micro. It’s only about 2 inches long and about 3/4 inch wide and designed to go in breadboards and pre-made circuit boards with standard hole spacing. And it has 18 digital I/O pins. Four more than then 14 that we need.

I think it should work well.

So, I’ll go order the parts and, while waiting for them, I'll show you the software in this video.

If that video hasn’t been released yet, I’ll see you in this other video where I do an Arduino project simulating wind to make wind chimes sound indoors.

After watching that, go make something.

Perfection isn't required. Fun is!

Monday, February 17, 2020

How to photograph splashes every time!


Interested in photographing splashing water? In this episode, we'll see how to take splash photography and capture the image every time. As demonstrated by Peter McKinnon, capturing high-speed events can be achieved by repeatedly doing the action and using your camera's burst mode. This doesn't take much equipment but does take quite a bit of time. Today, Harley shows how a little bit of inexpensive equipment can enable getting the splash every time, allowing you to fine tune the image to get it perfect.


Peter McKinnon’s video:
Neewer flash triggers: (affiliate link)


Here at House of Hacks we do tutorials, project overviews, tool reviews and more related to making things around the home and shop. Generally this involves wood and metal working, electronics, photography and other similar things. If this sounds interesting to you, you may subscribe here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the House of Hacks' values, here’s a playlist for you.

And here’s the most recent video.

For a written transcript, go to How to photograph splashes every time!

Here's a list of the tools I use.

Clock video by Jason H Austin from Pexels.

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 4.0 by Kevin MacLeod at
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing"


Want to learn how to take splash photos?

Is an hour for one image to long for you?

Want to get this image...

Stick around and I'll show you how!

\Welcome to the House of Hacks!
If we're just meeting, I'm Harley.
I make stuff and I show you how to make stuff too.

I love Peter McKinnon's work. He's both inspirational and informational in the photography related videos that he makes.

Recently he did a video regarding splash photography where he made some really cool product portraits. The way he did this was to just take a whole lot of images and hope one of them turned out in drive mode. This is kind of a spray-and-pray method if you will.

The advantage to this is it's very inexpensive. Beyond the basic photography
equipment that you probably already have, there's nothing new required.

The disadvantage is it's very time intensive. I think he said it took him an hour to
get one good usable image. Well, if it's taking you an hour to get an image, if
you're trying to dial in on a specific look, it might give you quite a while and
a lot of patience. Or you might settle for something that's not exactly what
you're looking for.

I'm going to show a high speed photography setup that I use to get very repeatable results when dropping things into a water tank. Every time you drop something it's going to show up in the same place in the frame every time.

The equipment that I have is pretty old and it's no longer available but I've left links in the description below for equivalent systems that are available now. The total cost for this is less than $100. So while it is a little bit of investment, it's not very burdensome.

Today I'm going to cover two topics: 1) the equipment and how to set it up and 2) how to set your exposure to get the right images.

To do these splash images, there's really three things that are required: a photo gate which is a light based trigger so when something interrupts a light beam this sends out a trigger signal, and then there's a delay unit because you don't want the flash to go off when the beam is interrupted but rather when the object has had time to drop down into
frame where you want it, so you need a delay that's measured in like milliseconds.

A number of years ago I found these HiViz kits online and when I got mine they were just getting developed and were pretty rough. I got one and it was basically just some components and a schematic. I wired that together on a little point-to-point circuit board and put them in these cases so they're nice and neat and easy to use.

Since that time they've really refined their kits quite a bit and now you get a
whole assembly where you can assemble the kit and put it inside the control
panel that comes with it and the box that comes with it so you get a complete

And then you need a way to trigger the flashes. I'm using a wireless system by
Cactus. These aren't made anymore but there's a new model by Neewer that
looks like it does pretty much the same thing. You don't need all the fancy TTL
stuff that drives up the price on these. You just need a simple on/off switch
because we're going to be running these in manual mode.

You could also, instead of using a wireless system, get one of those little devices that goes on the hot shoe that has a remote trigger input on it. That would work just as well.

First of all, the light beam needs to be set up across the opening of the tank so when
something falls in, it interrupts the beam and sends off the trigger.

The kit came with an infrared LED laser but I found that to be very hard to use
because being infrared it's invisible and trying to get it lined up this
distance so that it could trigger things was very very difficult. I found that a
normal red LED laser works just as well and is much easier to set up since you
can see it. I've got the laser on one side and I've got the sensor on the
other and that's going into the photo gate controller.

The wireless trigger just slides on to the bottom of the flash and now whenever the trigger is put off the flash goes off.

We could take the output from the photo gate and plug it directly into the transmitter for the wireless unit. The problem with this is we'd get an image when the object immediately hit the laser beam and not when it actually got into frame so we'd never see anything.

To solve this problem we use a delay unit that will delay the trigger signal by a
couple milliseconds that it takes to fall from the laser beam to where we
want it in frame and then the output from that delay unit then goes into the
transmitter for the wireless system.

Putting this all together, this is the equipment setup. We've got the LED going to the sensor for the photo gate. It's wired into its control module. The control module for the photo gate's output is wired to the input of the delay unit and the output of the delay unit is wired to the wireless trigger for the flashes.

So now whenever the light beam is interrupted the flashes go off.

Now for the exposure part of the setup.

To freeze action, a high shutter speed is required. And to get high shutter speed, a
lot of light is required. Peter used a combination of a nice light and high ISO.
On modern cameras, a high ISO isn't usually a problem. But without expensive
lighting, getting enough light on the object can be a problem.

An alternative is to use flashes. Speed lights work well for this. An interesting fact about speed lights is the lower the power, the faster the flash. This isn't necessarily
true about standard studio lights. With both studio lights and speed lights on
high power, typically the flash is long enough that motion will blur on you.

An interesting point when using flash is shutter speed isn't very relevant. Most,
if not all of the exposure, is from the flash, not ambient light. So if ambient light is low enough, shutter speed can actually be quite long.

Putting all these facts together, using a low power on the flash, combined with low
ambient light, and also combined with shutter speed in the order of seconds, we
have enough time to be able to trigger the camera and then drop the object. As
long as the shutter speed is long enough for us to do that operation, we're good.

So I have my camera set to two seconds for the shutter speed, f/10 to get a decent depth of field and ISO 200. The flashes are set to 1/16 power.

Once the equipment is set up then we're ready to dial things in. The photo gate
has a sensitivity setting that I find mid-range works best. If it's too
sensitive, random things in the air will cause it to trigger. We want it to be
reliable though when the objects that we're dropping really do pass through
its path.

Then there's the time delay that we need to set. My unit will work in
seconds, milliseconds or microseconds time ranges. I find that for dropping
objects in a set up like this, milliseconds works best. The range that
you'll use will depend on how far the trigger is from where you want it in
frame and how fast the object is moving. We'll dial this in through a series of images with kind of trial and error once we start making photos.

So let's start making them.

When I set up for this shot, the first image captured the item just before it hit the water.

I adjusted the lighting and tried again.

The lighting was better and the item was exactly the same place.

See how repeatable this is?

I then adjusted the delay in one direction and tried again.

This time the flash went off before the item was even in the frame.

I dialed the time the opposite direction and tried again.

This time it was exactly what I wanted.

As we can see from these subsequent images, once it's dialed in, the object will be at the same place in the frame every time.

These images are all sequential. They're not cherry picked from a bunch of different ones.

It's important when dropping things that they're dropped from the same height every time. But things of different weights can be dropped each time without changing the height. You will get a bigger splash though.

As you've seen, every time I drop something, the item is in the same spot in the image.

Over here is a playlist of other photography related videos and down here is a video that YouTube thinks you'll enjoy.

Remember when making things, perfection's not required, fun is!