The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 25, 2009

Didn’t Mom Say Not to Do This?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 6:54 pm

In addition to the chance to go see some auto racing, last weekend also provided a chance to spend a few days with my Dad and my brothers, including my younger brother Jason who lives down in Provo, and who I don’t really get to see too often these days.  As you might know if you’ve seen some of the posts I’ve made here in the past couple of months, he’s the one who got the whole RC car thing started, and since is the first time we’ve all been in the same place at once since we all got started on this, it was inevitable that RC cars would figure into the weekend’s activities.  Although a perusal of the relevant TSA regulations suggested that if we were so inclined we could probably manage to bring our cars in checked baggage, ultimately we all decided it was going to be too much of a hassle.  This didn’t stop us from spending some time wandering around to some of the various RC stores in the area though, and since my other brother (Jared) had been giving some consideration to picking up another one already, we soon found ourselves leaving one of the shops with a new 1/16th scale E-Revo VXL

Basically, this one is a smaller electric version of the nitro-powered Revo 3.3 that I have, and with the right batteries this thing can apparently push 60 miles per hour, and do other tricks like do a backflip from a dead stop.  As seems to be the case with most RC stuff, we managed to find a way to break it within the first ten minutes (broke one of the rear suspension arms reversing into a pallet at speed while messing with it behind a vacant warehouse near the hotel) but since it was still for the most part usable with a wire and electrical tape repair, we continued messing with it later on.

Aside from a general lack of noxious nitro fumes, this one also has a “training mode” that will limit the power output to a much more manageable speed than the normal settins would allow, which actually makes this one reasonable for indoor use.  When we got back to the hotel after a dinner at Pat’s BBQ in Salt Lake (it’s definitely a dive, but the food was quite good and reasonably priced,) we ended up setting up a little trials course out of whatever objects happened to be available in the hotel room, and took turns driving the E-Revo around it.  Here we see a number of the pillows and blankets arranged into a ramp up to the couch, which comes around to a couple of end tables and the ironing board.  This lead over to one of the two beds, which were bridged by my brother’s longboard, then finally over to a number of other pillows arranged as a ramp down to the floor and back to the start/finish line.

I’m not quite sure how the maid was going to figure this one out (it’s not actually one of the hotel’s blankets though, so it wasn’t going to be an issue for them.  As long as there isn’t any dirt on the tires they won’t leave any permanent marks  mark though.  It’s certainly not as easy as it looks to get around this though.  I suspect if we had tried it at home we might have found ourselves grounded for life (or a not insignificant portion thereof,)  That’s not to say we wouldn’t have done it though…  I figure the fact that my Dad was participating, I’m probably safe (for now…)  Just don’t tell the people at the hotel, OK?

August 13, 2009

It All Breaks Eventually.

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

Although I haven’t had as much opportunity to use my RC truck as much as I would like to since I’ve gotten it, I’ve found that in the somewhat limited time I have used it for it has held up surprisingly well.  For a number of runs now, the Revo has held up with no significant repairs needed, and aside from a fuel pickup glitch I encountered while out in the middle of nowhere, has functioned pretty much flawlessly.  This, of course, meant that I was just about due for some breakage, and on a relatively brief trip out to some BMX ramps up at the top of Education Hill near Hartman Park earlier this week, things broke.  All sorts of things broke, in fact.  On the plus side, I think I managed to put one of these things on the Christmas list of one of the bike riders who showed up while I was there.

A bad landing from a jump resulted in this bent exhaust header pipe, which by itself wasn’t really enough to put the truck out of commission, but it was enough to affect performance and bend some other things out of shape.  Expecting this to be a fairly minor (if somewhat involved) repair, I bought the replaement part and set sbout taking things apart to make the repair.

For comparison, here’s the part, compared to its replacement (one guess which is which.)  Note that the broken one also reflects a bit of mangling required to bend it out of the way of the screw that holds it onto the engine bl0ck. 

Of course, one problem is never enough, and if you dig down deep enough you’re bound to find more.  Sure enough, removing the engine from the block revealed that somewhere along the line, I managed to break the engine mount as well, requiring another trip to another hobby store to pick up one of those (and another $20 for the part.)  Breaking small metal pieces on this thing seems to be a considerably more expensive endeavor than breaking small plastic pieces.  After getting back from the hobby shop with that piece, I soon discovered that one of the bearings in one of the rear axle carriers had seized up (which would probably explain some of the damage to the wheel mounted on that axle.)  Following a THIRD trip to the hobby shop, I finally had the stuff to put it all back together.  Also while I had the whole thing apart, I also changed out the oil in the rear shocks to a higher weight, to try to help stiffen up the overly soft out-of-the-box suspension a bit more. 

Finally, after several hours of tinkering around uninstalling, reinstalling, re-uninstalling and re-reinstalling stuff, something mostly resembling an RC monster truck has once again emerged from the random pile of parts strewn about the desk, as seen in the first picture.  There’s still one pesky issue I need to resolve with the exhaust hanger, but other than that I should be good to go, and managed to get a couple good evenings of quality not-sitting-around-on-the-computer out of the deal.  It also provided a good opportunity to make use of the workbench-like object I’ve recently added to the room  This job would have been a serious pain to do on the end table in the living room where I had done my RC wrenching before I got the workbench, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of parts strewn about and disassembled at one time.

July 10, 2009

It’s All Fun and Games Until Something Falls Off

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:21 am

As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago here, recently I have become the owner of a Traxxas Revo 3.3 nitro powered RC truck.  Over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have had the chance to break it in, break it out, and just plain break things, and although as a relative novice to the whole serious R/C car bit, I’m still getting used to the whole routine, I think I’ve had enough of a chance to get a feel for how it runs now.  I’ve also had several opportunities to break out the tools to work on stuff, mostly as a result an occasional tendency for the thing to find its way into the nearest tree trunk at high speed (occasionally aided by the guy holding the transmitter, I suspect.)

The Revo 3.3 comes in what is referred to as a “Ready to Run” package, as opposed to the unassembled kits that some (not a lot these days actually) R/C cars and trucks come in.  Basically what this means is that you could fuel it up and go, but in reality it means that you need a number of items before you can run it.  First of all, you need nitro fuel (which, runs as much as $40 a gallon,) a fuel bottle to get the fuel into the truck (because for as much as nitro fuel costs you certainly don’t want to be spilling the stuff if you can help it,) a 7.2v battery for the starter, a charger for the battery, a glow plug igniter (because I found the Traxxas EZ-Start unit to be basically worthless for starting the plug, but it’s possible mine was broken out of the box)…  Oh yeah, and 12 AA batteries for the transmitter and receiver.  Pretty soon all this stuff adds up, but most of these are one-time expenses, and probably shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  The good news is that once you have the stuff you’re basically ready to go.

As soon as I got the thing running for the first time,  I could immediately tell the thing was nothing like any of the other R/C cars I might have driven over the years.  For one thing, getting the thing running for the first time actually proved to be a bit of an ordeal.  Actually, I managed to get the thing going almost immediately, but the motor ran for about ten seconds, stalled out, and from there, it took another hour of trying with my Dad’s assistance (and replacement of the glow plug, which burned out almost immediately) before we could even get it fired up again.  Even then, it took some leaning out of the carburetor before we could get the thing to not stall out at the slightest application of throttle.  Once we got it going though, it was clear that this sucker was going to be fast.  Even during the slow going of the first couple of break-in tanks of fuel at 1/4 and 1/2 throttle, it could run at a pretty decent pace.  This made control a bit trickier than I had originally anticipated, which probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the low stance (for an R/C monster truck anyway) and wide wheelbase.  At the very least, I did manage to avoid flipping the thing over until I was on the fourth tank. 

Of course, the general rule for break-in on nitro powered R/C is to go slow early on, but Traxxas’ instructions for the last break-in tank (there are five total) are to run it up to full-throttle over three seconds, and keep it there for another two.  This proved tricky without a lot of space, and somewhere along the line during this last tank I put it into a wall somewhere and managed to break the right front suspension A-arm and bend the pushrod which connects the wheel to the large single shock located inside the body of the truck via a set of rocker arms.  Fortunately Traxxas provides detailed exploded views of everything, and once I began to figure out where things were and how to get them apart, the repair wasn’t too bad.  Oh yeah, and somewhere along the line I managed to break the end off the transmitter antenna as well, just for good measure.

Once I finished the break stuff – er, I mean break-in period, a couple of days later I got a chance to go out with dad and Jared to try out the truck at Marymoor Park, where there are a couple of big piles of dirt out near the dog park that work well for R/C bashing.  No longer being constrained by the break-in settings, it was now time to tune the engine for optimal performance.  This, much like getting the engine started in the first place, was easier said than done.  There are a number of different adjustments on the carburetor, and mostly I was trying to keep from running too lean, which would result in stalling if I let off the throttle.  Eventually I got something that (mostly) worked, and got a chance to mess around some. 

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something satisfying about kicking up a big cloud of dust, especially if you’ve got something that does it as well as this thing does.  There aren’t a lot of chances to do jumps here (unless you want to go off the top of the big pile, which I did a couple of times) but I’m still getting used to things. 

Unfortunately, this time around it was my Dad’s turn to break stuff, as his truck took a tumble and hit a rock in a bad spot, resulting in this busted fuel tank.  Fortunately, one nice thing about these is that at least when cheap plastic parts break, they’re relatively cheap to replace.  And break they will.  Although I made it through this particular session with my Revo relatively unscathed, some running down in Bonney Lake on the Fourth of July resulted first in more trouble tuning, then some issues with the slipper clutch getting loose (and a burned finger while investigating the problem.)  Once I got those out of the way (tuning is pretty much a constant thing when you’re running nitro trucks)  I finally got it running well, just in time to put the thing into the nearest tree at high speed.  Initially, the impact didn’t look like it had done much, but on closer inspection I found that I had managed to bend the pushrod on the front right corner again. 

The good news with that was that I had another spare from the last repair job to replace it with.  The bad news is that once I got the pushrod off, I found that it had been hiding a broken (but not quite broken enough to cause any failure which was obvious on initial inspection) CV shaft.  Fortunately, the local hobby store has the stuff to fix this, and it’s not even all that expensive.  Unfortunately, there’s also a clip that didn’t come with the replacement half shaft assembly that broke when I was taking it off, and they don’t stock the clips separately.  Unless I want to try the other store up in Woodinville or shop online, it looks like I might have to buy a $10 kit full of parts I don’t need (right now anyway) to in order to get a 10-cent clip.  Until then, the truck is sitting in pieces on one of the end tables in the living room, waiting for a ten cent part that’s probably going to cost considerably more than ten cents to come up with.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this, especially when my brother (the one who started the whole thing) said that the fact that you need to fix things when they break is a feature of the whole R/C experience.  I actually do see his point and I don’t mind fixing things, but it might be kind of nice if I could at least come up with different things to fix every once in a while.  I suppose it’s supposed to be a learning experience, although I suppose if I could just learn to stop running the thing into trees I wouldn’t have to be dealing with these things so much in the first place…

June 28, 2009

My Toys Run on Nitromethane

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:54 am

These days, it seems that everyone’s got some sort of hobby.  Aside from the oft-cliched standbys like stamp and coin collecting, you can find people doing just about everything out there from camping to car collecting, biking to baking, or just about anythin in between.  Aside from blogging (which actually does take a fair bit of my time these days)  I have a tendency to be annoyingly indecvisive on the whole matter.  Throughout the years, I have gone through all sorts of different hobbies, and haven’t ever really stuck with any particular one for any length of time.  As you can see above, I’ve been through quite a few of them (although some of the stuff on there is just for illustration purposes.  I’ll leave it to the reader to determine which ones.) The problem with these old hobbies is that in a lot of cases they don’t just disappear.  On the contrary, they have an annoying tendency to accumulate over time.  Take for example my brief foray into arcade collecting (if you can’t find it, it’s the thing in the back.)  I actually got my arcade cabinet shortly after I moved into this apartment, and although I have nearly 10 different boards for it (one of the nice things about one of those is that just about every arcade game after about 1985 or so uses a standardized connector known as JAMMA so you aren’t limited to just the game that came in the cabinet,) I hardly ever use the thing.  Most of the time it just sits there taking up space.  Aside from my Xbox 360 which still sees occasional use whenever I feel like it, most of my older game consoles just sit around as well, occupying the top shelf of the closet in the den.  Over in my room, my old collection of Nerf guns sits in several large bins in the corner, while my golf clubs (purchased a couple of years back when my Dad and my brothers all inexplicably decided to take up golf) typically clogs up the entry hall closet.  I suppose if I didn’t live in an apartment I could just go stick all the stuff in the front yard and have a Great Big Garage Sale of Doom, but that might be a bit hard to pull off here. 


Of course, the reason that I even bring this up is because just in time for Summer, the next one has arrived, in the form of a Traxxas Revo 3.3 1/10th (or 1/8th, it’s kind of hard to tell actually) scale nitro-fueled RC car.  It was actually my brother Jason who was the first to get involved in this, introducing me to it when I was down in Provo back in April.  Two of his roommates had HPI Savages (nitro monster trucks, similar in size to this one) while he has an HPI Firestorm (more of a dune buggy type thing, although since the bodies on these things are pretty much just for decoration it doesn’t really matter much.)  Although the things seemed to spend a lot more time broken than running, to someone who likes tinkering around with things and fixing them this is actually a feature rather than a problem.  I was told at the time that it would be my job to convince my Dad and my other brother Jared to get these (as well as my brother-in-law Terence, although that might be a bit of a stretch) but Jared actually ended up buying another Firestorm when he went down to Utah about a week after I was there.  After getting a chance to mess with this on some good offroad terrain and see all the stuff you can do, I decided to get one.  My Dad was also looking at these, and ended up with an HPI Savage X4.6 as a Fathers’ Day present last week.  This meant that technically, all the cool kids were doing it, so last week I oredered a Revo, which arrived on Friday. 

I imagine that for most of you reading this, when you think of RC cars, the first things that come to mind are most likely the toy RC cars that you’ll find lurking somewhere in just about any given discount store.  On the TV commercials, they make the things look like they can go anywhere and do anything (to a point, of course) but when all is said and done, you’re still dealing with products that are built like toys, and as a result are inevitably going to break somewhere along the way.  If it’s within whatever warranty came with the thing, you might be able to get it replaced.  Of course, just about any use of one of the things beyond maybe running it around in circles on the driveway is going to void the warranty anyway.   At that point, you’re pretty much out of luck.  Although there are some exceptions, replacement parts are generally impossible to get, and by the time something breaks you’re looking at a 1/8th scale paperweight.  While I was growing up I went through a number of these toy RC cars, and found most of them to be predictably disappointing (although it was kind of fun getting the dogs and/or cats to chase them around the living room every so often.) 

That’s where the Hobby-grade RCs come in.  First of all, we’re not talking dinky little cars running on AA batteries here.  These things are light years ahead of your standard toy RC car (and have the pricetag to match, of course.)  We’re talking big 1/8th scale RC trucks with actual nitro-fueled (well technically it’s methanol with nitromethane and lubricant oils added) engines capable of speeds over 45 miles per hour (and as much as 70 on the on-road model using the same engine,) 4-wheel drive with actual front and rear differentials, Full suspensions, and all sorts of adjustments and modifications to make.  Let’s just say that with one of these you actually can do all the stuff you see on the toy RC car commercials, and plenty more.  Granted, you’re still going to chew up AA batteries so quickly you’ll want to buy Duracell stock with one of these (the transmitter and receiver  take 12 AAs between them) but it’s a small price to pay, especially compared to what you’ll end up paying for the nitro fuel the thing runs on.  I didn’t say it was a cheap hobby now, did I?

Of course, even with all the fancy suspension setups and all the metal parts you’ll find in this, you’re still going to break things.  In fact, it is quite likely you’ll be breaking even more things on one of these than you would on a toy.  Fortunately, unlike the toy RCs, when you break this you’ll actually be able to find parts for it.  In fact, if you wanted to (and had a good chunk of change to blow on it) you could even build one of these from scratch using the parts available for it.  There are also so-called hop-up parts available.  Getting sick of breaking the suspension A-arms with your ridiculously huge jumps?  Get the anodized aluminum ones, and it’s problem solved.  Same goes for a lot of the other stuff on here.  If you wanted to, you could even just stick a new engine on the thing if the one on here isn’t fast enough for you (although after seeing what the thing can do just on the break-in runs, I can’t imagine why, at least not yet) or if you really wanted to go to extremes, you could even just convert the whole thing to electric (in some cases, high-end electric RC cars have even surpassed the nitro-fueled ones in a lot of ways, but can also be quite a bit more expensive.)  For some peonple, having something you need to fix every time you bring it out probably isn’t exactly their idea of a fun time, but for the gearheads in the family here such tinkering is welcomed.  Already I’ve learned quite a bit about how some of the parts in a car work (things like differentials and carburetors that I’ve never really dealt with before) and suspect I’ll probably have a few more lessons (painful or otherwise) coming as a result of my purchase.

Of course, none of this guarantees that six months from now this thing won’t be taking up space in the closet while I’ve moved on to  some other hobby (there’s been some vague talk of maybe trying to build a “cheap” racecar of some sort for some of the local track races and things like that) but for now, my toys run on nitromethane.

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