Better Tak Board

When I built the Tak set, my focus was really on the pieces (after all, you can play without any board at all). But the pencil-on-butcher-paper board wasn't very nice. So I built a new one:

It has 2" squares with lines in pen. The colors are watercolor on unprimed, natural canvas, and I'm really happy with it. I was going to finish the edges, but I kind of like the lightly frayed, well-traveled look, so I brushed a tiny amount of Mod Podge around the edges. That should arrest the fraying to keep it looking lightly abused but not ruined.

Go check out their kickstarter and get your own Tak set as soon as they're for sale!

Tak: A Beautiful Afternoon Project

Maybe you saw a Kickstarter for Tak: A Beautiful Game. It's a game that makes an appearance in Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. I love (love!) The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear and I thought The Slow Regard of Silent Things was a delight. I will gladly consume anything set in that universe, so I may be a bit biased, but Tak is a good game.

The game will be produced by Cheapass Games, who already made two of our kids' favorites, Pairs and Lord of the Fries

Aside: I'd especially recommend Pairs for playing a quick game while you're trying to keep the kids busy at a restaurant. You only need a tiny amount of table space, and you can sweep it up in a hurry.

The Kickstarter will deliver in November, but I couldn't wait that long, so I built a set. I used some alder boards left over from a dice tower I made. They're 1½ inches wide and ¼ inch thick. I used my Fine Kerf Saw to cut 40 identical squares out of the alder and sanded everything lightly with 320-grit paper.

At first I tried gluing up some shaped pieces to be my capstones, but they looked too much like standing stones, so I bought some decorative dowel caps, and they're great.

Half of the pieces are completely unfinished. I put the other half in a baggie with some Special Walnut Stain and let them soak for 15 min.

I stitched up a denim bag and added a lace leather drawstring to hold the pieces.

I don't have a great board yet. I just drew one with a sharpie and colored pencils on butcher paper. The squares-and-diamonds design is pretty much the same as on Cheapass's site. Maybe I'll make a better board next.

It took me about 2 hours to make and stain the pieces. Then it took another couple to hand-sew the bag. The board took maybe 30 minutes. Not bad for a few hours' work.

If I were going to build another set, I'd get some thicker alder. These tip over a little too easily. They're still acceptable, I'm just picky.

We've played quite a bit, and it's a really fun game. The pieces are easy to see and move. Danger already announced that he's going to build his own Tak set out of Lego.

Long Sofa Table

We just got a great sofa for the family room. And what do you need when you have an 8-foot long long sofa and need a place to put a drink? An 8-foot long sofa table!

So Mrs. Mojo commissioned a long, narrow sofa table. It's 8 feet long and only 11 inches deep. I made it out of 1" maple from the orange store. The top, sides, and shelves are made of 1x6 boards joined with a biscuit joiner

about 9 times as long as it is wide

about 9 times as long as it is wide

The end that faces the front door is just a plain plank like the tabletop. The other end has shelves where we'll be able to store and charge the ever-growing number of phones, tablets, and e-book readers we're accumulating.

One plain end

One plain end

And one end with storage

And one end with storage

You can't see it in the pictures, but there's a skirt of 1x2 maple running under each side of the tabletop and inside the plain leg. It gives it a heavier look and should keep the tabletop from sagging, even if we put something really heavy on it.

I added some plastic cable grommets to the back of each shelf so we can use the outlets under the table without looking at wires. As a bonus, the grommets gave me an excuse to buy a set of Forstner Bits to make perfect 1⅜ inch holes to put them in. Then I noticed that the grommets are actually 35mm. That's about 0.03 inches bigger than 1⅜. I was able to fix it with sandpaper and determination. It's a good thing they came in a 10-pack, because I broke 4 trying to force them in.

I also picked up a belt sander and a few more bar clamps (because you can never have too many). Then I burned up my old buckethead vacuum and bought a new shop vac. I don't know if that counts as "required" for the project.

To finish the table, I used:

The project sat in my garage for 4 weeks. I worked off & on, taking frequent breaks to enjoy the awesome Phoenix springtime. It took a few days of work to construct the table, then about twice as long to sand and finish it.

Noise-blocking Headphones

I built these in 2012, but I forgot to take pictures of them until I was building a table and used them a lot. I wanted to be able to listen to music and podcasts while I used power tools.

So I got a pair of Peltor Hearing Protectors and stuffed a pair of Koss headphones inside.

The wires stay out of the way

The wires stay out of the way

I disassembled the headphones, leaving a long wire on the left one and a short wire on the right. I drilled a 1/8" hole in the top of each earmuff and routed the long left wire out of the left cup, through the headband, and into the right cup. I used the grommets that were already on each wire to make a snug fit. There's just enough slack for the headphones to swivel.

Routing the right speaker wire was much easier because it never leaves the earmuff.

The wire goes behind the noise-blocking foam

The wire goes behind the noise-blocking foam

The headphone speakers just sit inside each cup. At first, I tried taking the speaker completely out of its hard shell and resting it in the foam of the hearing protector cups. That didn't work: they were WAY too quiet. I had to put the hard backings on each speaker to hear them.

I wanted to be able to use these as regular, non-headphone hearing protectors too, so I put in a port instead of having a wire dangling there all the time. I soldered the wires to a panel mount headphone jack and wrapped it all in heat shrink. The headphone jack approach is useful because if the wire catches on something, it just pops out instead of breaking the wire (or pulling me head-first into whatever power tool I was using at the time).

Fllush-mounted port instead of a dangly wire

Fllush-mounted port instead of a dangly wire

In the right earmuff, I had to drill a hole for the jack. Then I had to drill a countersink about halfway through the earmuff because the threaded part of the jack wasn't deep enough to reach all the way through. It was a pain to do, but I'm pretty happy that it came out flush mounted when I was done. It's a nice touch I wouldn't have bothered with if the jack had been longer.

Now I can plug in any 3.5mm audio cable. I got one from Amazon with a right angle at one end so it's not pointed straight down at my shoulder.

Of course, I could have just bought a pair ready-made. Amazon has a pair of Howard Leight Noise-Blocking Stereo Earmuffs. It looks like I actually would have spent less that way, but where's the fun in that?

Block Cannon

When I was a kid, we had a Crossbows & Catapults set. You can still get them, and they look pretty cool, but we already had these plain wooden blocks.

I thought it would be fun to make a game kind of like the original Crossbows & Catapults, but shooting little pucks at castles made of those blocks.

Danger and I each made one. I showed him how I was sticking mine together, and he assembled his own. Danger also came up with the name. I was calling them "Wooden block shooters." After he saw how they worked, he dubbed them "Block Cannons."

For each cannon, you'll need:

  • 2 ea. 2.25" x 0.125" x 6" poplar boards
  • 2 ea. 0.75" x 0.75" x 6" poplar sticks
  • 1 ea. 0.75" x 0.75" x 9" poplar stick
  • 2 ea. 0.375" x 1" round wooden dowels
  • 3/8" drill bit
  • sand paper
  • wood glue
  • 1 rubber band

You just glue one 6" stick to each long edge of a 6" board, leaving enough of a gap between them to let the 9" board move freely. Glue the other board on the other side like a sandwich. You need to drill a hole through the 9" board, about an inch from the end. The rubber band in the pictures above is passing through this hole.

Then drill 3/8" pockets about 1/2" deep into each side near the back and glue a dowel in the hole. To assemble, run the rubber band through the 9" plunger and hook each end over one dowel.

I also did some extra sanding: I put a slight groove in the end of the plunger so it's easier to shoot round things straight. Then I rounded over the back corners of the cannon body so it's a little easier on the rubber bands.

A note on the 3/4"x3/4" sticks: mine were not exactly square. Make sure when you're fitting everything together that you don't accidentally end up with a plunger that doesn't fit in your cannon. Once you get it fit, mark which way is "up" and you'll be good.


Chef Knife Comfort Hack

The Problem

When I use my awesome cleaver for a long time, my index finger suffers. It's particularly bad when my hands are wet & I'm cutting hard vegetables. 

It's the spine of the knife. It has hard right angles that dig into the base of my index finger as I apply pressure. Maybe I'm the only one who has this problem, but if you have it too, here's an easy solution.

The Fix

You can soften the corners just a little with your knife sharpening kit. I have an Edge Pro Apex 3, but any whetstone will do.

Start with a medium (220) or fine (400) stone and wet it as normal. Gently take a little material off of the corners of the spine where it meets the base of your index finger.

Next, use a very fine (600) stone to smooth out any scratch marks. You could go all the way to 1000 grit to restore the shine if you like.

The Results

It works like a charm. Do yourself a favor and make your tool more comfortable. Mrs. Mojo liked it enough that she asked me to do her knife too.

Keeping Kids Safe

Every parent worries about keeping their kids safe.

So I made mine some armor. It's a European 4-in-1 chain maille vest made of 14 AWG stainless wire wound into 7/16 inch rings. It took about 2,900 rings (and maybe 33 hours) to make the vest. It tips the scales at 7 lbs, and it actually looks like it would be pretty effective against blades.


Now my kids are safe from sword-wielding bandits, highwaymen, brigands, desperadoes, and other outlaws plaguing the streets of my suburban community.

I only made one vest, so they'll have to share. Still, I'll sleep easier knowing one of my kids at a time is safe.

Sparkly Pink Flames

Sweetpea just graduated to a new bike!

Well, not a new bike, exactly. It's her bike, but it used to belong to Danger.

But I felt bad about just giving her big brother's cast-offs. As an older sibling myself, I didn't really face this problem, but let's face it: hand-me-downs kind of suck. Besides, this doesn't really suit her style.


You know what would?


Sparkly Pink Flames.

So that was my project last weekend: Sweetpea picked out a fuschia metallic shimmer spray paint, I spent 4 hours masking the old red flames, and changed them to fit her style.

Yes, those shoes are on the wrong feet

Yes, those shoes are on the wrong feet

Black Pepper Garlic Sauce

So this happened.

Danger: "Why don't you post food stuff at PowerfulMojo?"
Me: "Most of it isn't my food, exactly. I got the recipe from somewhere else."
Danger: "You should put your black pepper sauce there. You invented that."

So... here it is: a hot sauce with black pepper as its only source of heat.

  • 1 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp sake
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 3 tomatillos
  • salt to taste (½ tsp?)

Roast the tomatillos until they’re soft then squish them through a strainer so the skin and most seeds stay behind. Throw out the skin and seeds.

Put everything in a small pan and simmer for a few minutes.

Put it in a bottle and serve it with guacamole.

Ejector Seat in the VW

I have these blank buttons in front of the gear shift in my car. They don't do anything except take up space.

But I found this guy who makes custom buttons like this eject button. So I'm going to install a garage door opener directly into my car, and this is the button that's going to make it work.

The Parts

Obviously, I'll need the Eject button (he also has tacksoil slickHello Kitty! Or a plain old "Garage Open," but why would you want that?).

The rest is miscellaneous wires and fasteners. I'm not wiring the garage remote into the car's electrical system. It will still be battery powered. If I get tired of changing one battery every few years, I may change that.

Modding the Remote

I think it will make everything a little more professional if the garage door remote is removable and not ruined by this process. So I'll install an external connector on it that the switch wires plug into. That way I can unplug it and remove it to replace the battery or loan to visiting family or whatever.

I drilled a hole in the housing to take a panel mount jack.

Then I soldered in the jack.

For now, I'll just leave it velcroed inside the console. If it actually makes noise or bugs me, I'll hold it in place somehow.

Taking The Dash Apart

To get everything apart, I did a little Googlin' and found how to get it this far.


I installed the switch according to the included instructions (translation from the original German courtesy of Google Translate).

Test It!

It operates the garage door and lights up when the headlights are on!

Hanging Dunk Bucket

It's been hot out here in the desert. Someone sent me a link to this youtube video and I said "Oh, I'm making one of those."


The tripod came together easy: 3 boards (2x4x10'), a 1/2" threaded rod (12" long), and a couple of washers and wing nuts to hold it together. I also got some screw-in eye bolts and paracord.

I tried just hanging the bucket by its handle, but I got nervous about suspending 30-40 lbs of water directly over my children's' heads, so I made an OSB platform for the thing. I think I'll have to try again with a sturdier container. You can see that this one gets all squished.

I just had to drill two holes in the bottom to install a toilet tank kit (the fill valve and the flapper). I used a fitting to adapt my garden hose to the toilet supply line.

The only real trick was the trigger device. I used a piece of steel and a 3/8" rod I had laying around. I tapped holes through both so I could hold them together with a threaded screw. At the other end of the rod, I clamped a pair of vise grips on the rod and hooked it to the flush lever of the toilet kit.

When you hit the target, it swings the steel lever, turns the rod, raises the vise grips and it empties the bucket on top of whoever is in the chair!

Branded Boards

I found this place that will make semi-custom branding irons. As long as you just want a single letter with a bar, circle, rafter, or rocker, they'll make one up for you.

My in-laws have a name that lends itself well to a branding iron, so I ordered a small pile of irons. It didn't seem super-cool to give them an iron stick for Christmas, so I made up some boards to hang them on.  

The wood is the same 3/4" cherry ply I had left over from the Desk and the Standing Desk Converter, but of course, it's branded with the family brand. I heated the iron up over a propane burner and branded all 6 boards. A couple coats of my trusted Maloof oil/poly blend and a black cup hook to hang the iron, and they were ready to go. 

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out the family name.

Back Yard Solar Cooker

Here's a thing we did a couple of summers ago:

We made a solar cooker out of a windshield screen, a bucket, some clips, a grill grate, and a stick. The windshield screen was already in my garage. It probably cost $8 or $9 at the auto parts store. I also already had a bucket and a grill grate from a tabletop grill.

I used the clips to hold the window shade in a cone shape, put the point of the cone in the bucket, and put the grill grate over the top of the bucket to hold the screen down and the pot up.

We tried cooking in a cast iron pot with its lid on (above), but I think that just took too long to heat up. Instead, I used an oven bag to let light in, but prevent wind from taking away our precious heat. 

The temperature of the cheese hit about 160° F in the sun. You'll melt cheese easily, but there will be no browning. I'd say anything you could do in a slow cooker on low ought to come out fine on a sunny day.

We cooked a pizza on a pre-baked crust. I thought it was soggy and weird, but Danger declared it delicious.

Then we cooked sweet Italian sausage in a red sauce for a few hours. It came out perfect!

Pasta Drying Rack

This might be the simplest build I've done: A place to hang my noodles.


I used a drill, screws, glue, and some sandpaper to assemble a pasta drying rack.

  • 2 ea. 1/2" dowels, 14" long
  • 5 ea. 1/2" dowels, 10" long
  • 2 ea. 3/4" square sticks, 12" long
  • 2 ea. 3/4" square sticks, 5.5" long
  • 1/2" drill bit
  • sandpaper
  • wood glue
  • mineral oil

The top board

Drill holes in one of the 3/4" x 12" sticks. You'll need 7 evenly spaced along one side. Do not drill all the way through; just halfway or a little more. Then drill 2 along an adjacent side so that you're drilling through a new face and into the side of the first and last holes (again, not all the way through). That lets the holes sit so that the drying sticks stick straight out or straight down, depending on how the top is installed.

The bottom board

Drill two holes in the bottom board as far apart as the first and last holes from the top board. These you could drill all the way through or just part way like the 1st ones.

The feet

Use screws to attach the short 3/4" boards to the bottom side of the bottom board (opposite where you drilled the holes. they should be loose enough that they'll swivel.

Glue it

Put the 10" dowels in each of the 5 holes and glue them there. Glue the longer dowels into the bottom board but not into the top board

I like this bit: since you didn't glue the top in place, you can take it off and put it back on with the sticks facing straight down. Fold the feet in and it lays flat.

Sand it

Sand everything until it's silky smooth, then get all of the sawdust off.

Oil it

Liberally bathe the thing in multiple coats of mineral oil. Try to get the wood so soaked with oil that it won't absorb any food, but not so soaked that when you try to pick it up, it shoots out of your hand. If you put a piece of junk mail on it for a second, it shouldn't oil up the paper, but if you leave it there a few minutes it should.

Simpson, Eh?

I just published another article on BlueCanary, this one is about Simpson's Paradox.

Would you believe it's possible to look for correlations within sub-populations, and find them in agreement across the board, but when you look at them in aggregate, the correlation reverses? If you're having trouble believing it, check out the article. 

Hybrid Hot/Cold Smoker

I built a hot-cold smoker a while ago when I wanted to get into cold-smoked salmon and bacon. Here's how it came together.

The Parts

Putting It Together

You'll need a Dremel or some other way to cut the metal of your perfectly good smoker and your perfectly good tabletop grill. They're both about to get temporarily ruined.

Find a nice spot on your smoker. I used the little door on mine that would normally be used for... something. I'm not sure what it's for, I've never used it. Cut a 4" hole, big enough to accept one of the start collars.

Then cut a similar hole in the lid of your tabletop grill and install a start collar in it too

Run a dryer hose between the start collars and clamp it in place.

Then cut a hole in the bottom of your tabletop grill big enough to let the electrical plug out from inside. I cut the middle out of the 3-hole vent to do this.

Put the electric burner inside the tabletop grill and run the electric wire outside. Put the cast iron box on the hot plate.

You're done!

Using It For Hot Smoking

Just build a fire in the smoker like you usually would. Use the tabletop grill to generate as much smoke as you want for the job.

Here's a leg of lamb I'm barbecuing for dinner with the neighbors.

Using It For Cold Smoking

This is where it gets good.

Put your food in the hot smoker with no fire under it.

Fill up the cast iron box with sawdust, wood chips, or whatever you normally use. Turn it to high. When it starts to smoke turn it down. You can fiddle with the temperature control on the electric burner to get just the right amount of smoke. 

You can smoke food this way for hours if the weather is cool enough. The dryer hose cools the smoke down and it doesn't warm up your food.

Witness the Firepower of This Fully Armed and Operational Robo-Do

This was a cool project Danger did for school. The assignment was "Make a robot that does a job."

What would be a problem that barely needs solving? One that a robot could do? I think he hit on the perfect one: "Sometimes I have free time, but I can't decide what to do." To solve it, he built:


Here's Robo-Do. He features

  • cardboard endoskeleton
  • aluminum dermal layer
  • soda can legs
  • flexible arms
  • clear poly screen on his chest
  • push-button nose

And that's Danger's name scrawled across the robot's 'nads. You press a button on Robo-Do's nose and the screen tells you what to do. 

It solves the same problem as the Wheel of Lunch. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that 15 minutes of coding, so I made this Robo-Do.

It's filled with more than 50 things a 6 and 9-year old can do. Some require a parent ("Go swimming"), but most the kids can do on their own.

Buckets On Hooks On a Stick

This one was Mrs. Mojo's idea. She got some red ladder hooks and some galvanized buckets for Danger to keep things in.

The ladder hooks are wall-mount, so they just have a threaded shaft. I didn't figure the drywall could hold that much by itself, so I added this.

It's just some dimensional oak from the Orange Store. I cut one square for each hook and routed the edges. The squares are rounded over on all four front edges. The tall rail is only routed between the squares.

Then I glued the squares in place and drilled holes for attaching the rail to the wall. The holes are counter-sunk so the screws sit below the surface of the rail.

The finish is the same  Maloof oil/poly blend as the desk. Two hollow wall anchors with screws attach it to the wall.

Now Danger has a place to keep army men, airplanes, or Lego bricks.


How Long Until Calories Turn Into Weight?

I have more nerdy follow-up on how to lose 30 lbs the not-impossibly-hard way

I've been keeping a log of what I ate and how much I weighed every day for more than 4 months now. And I already mentioned that I like data and charts and understanding how things work. I'm going to see if I can figure out when calories turn into weight.

The Data

I have weigh-in data for 105 days. More importantly, I have 91 pairs of weigh-ins collected 24 hours apart. So I want to see if there's a lag between calorie intake and weight loss (or gain).

So I looked at 1, 2, and 3 days of lag time to see which is the best predictor of weight, here's what I got:

          1 day lag

          1 day lag

          2 day lag

          2 day lag

          3 day lag

          3 day lag

The 1-day lag has the strongest predictive power for my weight. That's pretty intuitive: the weight comes from the calories I eat between weigh-ins. 2-day lag has about 1/3 the predictive power, and 3-day lag is actually slightly negative.

So that seems clear enough: You gain the weight the same day you eat the calories.

But Wait...

Let's try something else. What if we look at which days of the week I lose the most weight. Here's a plot of average weight gained (or lost) by day of week throughout the 4 months.

Check this out: I only lose weight Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday and Monday, I tend to gain a little weight.

What's going on there? Is it just calories?

Here's a plot of the calories eaten between weigh-ins, grouped by day of week.


Kind of a mess, right?

But there's something there...  Check out the graph plotted along with the 2-day lag (the one with less predictive power):

When I look at it this way, I get a different answer: calories take about 2 days to turn into weight. Calories I ate on Friday seem to show up Sunday.

So What's Going On?

It looks like there's something else in my weekly routine that drives weight loss/gain, and weight lags behind it.

My best theory: Bulleit Rye Whiskey and Stone IPA.

Alcohol is loaded with calories (like 200 per Stone IPA). If I had alcohol, it was most likely on a Friday or Saturday. The extra calories slowed my weight loss, but alcohol dehydrates me, so it looks like I'm losing even more weight. That accounts for the poor fit between Saturday's weigh-in and Friday's calories. By Sunday and Monday, I'm back to normal hydration and it shows up as gaining a little weight.

It's also worth mentioning that we're dealing with small amounts of weight and a pretty narrow range of calories. About 2/3 of these days I ate between 1,200 and 1,500 calories, and the range of weights is similarly small: 2/3 of the time, weight loss was between -1.6 and +0.4 lbs per day.

So that's my theory: I gain the weight the day I eat the calories, but if the calories were from alcohol, then the weight is hidden for a day.





3-D Printed Axis & Allies Dice

Have you ever played Axis & Allies?

It's a great game, and it's one of Danger's favorites. There's just one teensy problem: combat is tedious. If you haven't played, here's an example of how you resolve a combat:

Attacker (2 battleships, a cruiser, an aircraft carrier and 2 fighters) Round 1:

  • Announce you're rolling for the battleships, roll 2 dice, count 4 or lower as a hit.
  • Announce you're rolling for the cruiser and fighters, roll 3 dice, 3 or lower is a hit.
  • Announce you're rolling for the carrier, roll a die. If it's a 2 or 1 that's a hit. 

Defender (3 destroyers and 3 submarines) Round 1:

  • Announce you're rolling for the destroyers, roll 3 dice. Anything that's a 2 or 1 is a hit.
  • Announce you're rolling for the subs, roll 3 dice. Count the 1's as hits.

It continues like this until combat is over. Like I said, tedious.

Luckily, Danger found a solution: special dice.

I see 4 battleships, 4 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 2 submarines.

I see 4 battleships, 4 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 2 submarines.

Each die attacks at a different level. The die will show a skull for a hit and a slashed circle for a miss. The gray dice have 4 skulls, red have 3 skulls, black have 2, and white have 1.

Now, let's picture that same round:

The attacker picks up 2 gray dice, 3 red dice, and a black die, rolls them all and counts the skulls.

The defender rolls 3 black dice and 3 white dice and counts the skulls.

Danger designed the prototype die. It's a truncated sphere with 6 faces. Each side has its skull or slash recessed into it. I was worried it would be hard to read, but it isn't a problem at all.

We played a game and I was really surprised how much it improves the combat rolling.

I put the dice up on ShapeWays. I bought a set of 5 each. It set me back... uh... well... quite a bit of cash, but it was a fun project and it really does make the game more enjoyable.