Thursday, May 29, 2014

Leveling blocks for the van

This is another one of those simple little projects that is probably going to take longer to write up than it did to complete.

Once in a while having some means to level the van when parked in one of those slanted places the earth seems so full of can come in handy. Short of a multi-thousand dollar automatic hydraulic leveling system, you can go buy a set or two of those glow-in-the-dark neon yellow or orange nesting plastic blocks complete with carry case, blocks that have enough crush strength to hold up an office building, but why buy when you can build!!???

As with many of my small projects, this one started with left-overs, in this case a stick of treated 2x6. 2x8 lumber would have fit the tread width of the LT 245/75 R 16 tires better but there is a method to my madness thinking that will become clear later. From the board I cut one piece as long as I could and still have it fit where I am going to store these things. Then I cut a second piece 7 inches shorter. Once the two pieces are stacked this 7 inches allows the tire tread to sit completely on the long piece and take a breather before having to make the climb up on top of the short piece. Since leveling by blocking tires is pretty much always done in pairs, I cut two of each.

The cuts were made at a 45 degree angle. It might seem like that's done to ease the tire  up on top of the board like a ramp but for that to work the angle would have to be more like 20 or 25 degrees and the board would be getting pretty long by then. Instead the 45 degree angle is there so that when the tire is climbing up onto the board and the center of the axle is ahead of or directly over the top edge of the cut  the weight of the van isn't transferred directly down to the very bottom edge of the board which might cause it to flip up or loose traction and skid away, either of which would screw up the whole process! Instead the weight is transferred down 1 1/4" back from the edge (1 1/4 instead of 1 1/2 because I clipped that other 1/4" off so there's no sharp points.) and that extra little bit acts as a lever to keep the board flat on the ground, which also maintains maximum contact, therefor friction, with the ground which helps the whole thing stay in place rather than skidding off.

After careful marking, it was over to the drill press where I punched a couple of 1" holes through each of the short boards near the beveled end.

From the drill press it was over to the table saw where I cut four 2 1/2" lengths off of a 1" oak dowel I had hanging around. To make it easier to get consistent lengths I used a stop block, but never, ever, leave the stop block opposite the blade where the cutoff will be trapped between block and spinning blade! This usually results in the cutoff being launched at very high velocity right at your head! Always clamp the stop block to your rip fence making sure it a pulled back clear of the blade. Then all you do is put the material against the miter guide, slide it to the left until it touches the stop block, then push the miter gauge forward into the blade. Now the cutoff has plenty of room to hang out there between the rip fence and the spinning blade. BUT, don't reach in there to retrieve it until the blade has come to a complete stop. If you do you might have trouble playing the piano this evening!

Once the four dowels were cut this is the setup for putting a bevel on one end of each. Belt sander clamped securely in the bench vice and gloves to ensure that if I slip I'll loose a little cowhide and not any peoplehide. If I was doing any more sanding than this I'd have a hose from the vacuum system plugged into the belt sander.

A couple minutes later I have bevels on what will be the exposed end of all 4 dowels.

A bit of glue and the un-beveled end of a dowel is twisted into each of those 1" holes I drilled earlier and pushed until it's flush with what will be the top of the block.

All those other holes?  Didn't I mention those yet?  OK, so I had so much fun over at the drill press that after careful marking, I drilled 1 1/8" holes all over the place through all 4 pieces.

One pair of these holes in each of the long pieces is to accept the dowels protruding from the bottom of the short pieces so that when stacked they stay that way. The rest of the holes?

They left a whole lot of extra weight laying on the floor of my shop so that I don't have to carry it around in the van with me. Besides, the extra holes in the long boards just might increase traction if the board wants to slip as I'm driving up on it.

So why not use 2x8's for the blocks. Because the van has these tilt-open compartments in the bottom of each door that, up until now, I didn't have any other use for. But they're perfect for this! Utilizing otherwise empty space and at the same time keeping grimy, dripping, muddy things out of the van's interior. Instead all that gunk is now in a place where it will just drain into the foot-wells rather than create abstract mud-art all over my sheets or something equally important.

Blocks 5 1/2 inches wide fit in these compartments nicely, blocks 7 1/2 inches wide, not so much. One more use for all the extra holes I drilled is that when storing them I can nest the short block into the long block so that the hole thing (Get it?! Hole thing!!!) nestles neatly into the slightly curved storage compartments.

For some reason the designers of the van decided to add a little extra crap to the passenger-side storage compartment. I think maybe it's sized to hold a quart sized container of oil, but it was in my way.

So I got out my Ridged Jobmax Multi-tool and removed the extra bits.

So there you have it. Now, instead of fighting to keep the pan from sliding off the stove or sleeping with my feet higher than my head, I can quickly adjust the level of my house. With my short 144" wheelbase, if I need more than a 3" lift maybe I should be looking for another spot to park instead! Besides, having done it before, I know that accidentally driving off the back side of a 3" stack isn't all that bad; startling, but not bad; doing the same thing off a 4 1/2 stack, even if I had room to store a stack that size, is - well - BAD!

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