Sauna Reconstruction

Sorry remains of firebox

In the last few years the sauna firebox has been springing leaks that let out smoke and made the experience less than optimal unless one wants to be cured like bacon.  My welding repairs have been successful until the last few months when it became obvious I was losing the battle.  I realised reluctantly that the only fix would be a complete firebox transplant.  When I dismantled all the bricks, it became even more evident that it was in even worse condition than I thought.

Sorry remains of firebox

Sorry remains of firebox

  In fact it fell apart in my hands with rust that had all the strength of a weetbix, all bent and buckled and holes here and there.  Also the inner chimney of stainless steel had holes and 2 of the 3 sections were completely split along their length.  That was contributing to the smoke by lack of draw.  

Knowing that I could get sheet steel in 1.2m width, I worked out a cutting layout that would result in little wastage.   Choosing a firebox size of 600 by 500 by 400, I had dimensions that added up nicely to avoid loss and extra cutting.  I needed a sheet 1.2m by 1.7m.  The first firebox had been made from 4mm steel because I didn’t think my toy welder could anything thicker.  I was right.  It was a battle to get the parent metal to melt with only a 100 Amp welder.  But this time, just in time, I had been given a 130 amp welder by my good friend Martin, and thought I could weld maybe 6mm steel.  From 4mm to 6mm may not sound much, but it is a considerable upgrade in both longevity and challenge.  The heat dissipation in 6mm steel is considerably more.  The sheet cost $300.  It needed to be loaded with a forklift.  

Did you know that steel can be cut with a household circular saw?  I was surprised that my son-in-law didn’t, hi Blue! and that he battled through steel with an angle grinder.  An accidental hero, as it’s much quicker and more accurate with a circular saw.  But it’s still not quick with 6mm steel.  Goggles and ear protection please before starting the ‘Big Grind’.  When I said “household circular saw”, I didn’t mean any saw.  Manufacturers have worked out that the average DIY power tool is only used for 10 minutes in its entire life.  So they taylor the durability of the tool to that parameter.  So the cheapest tool in the shop, generally bought by not the sharpest tool in the shed, is going to go up in smoke during this exercise.  Even with an industrial grade saw, it is best to hand test the heat of both the motor and the saw guard and give the saw a rest every metre of cutting or so.  However the spectacular showers of sparks makes it all worthwhile!  Boys everywhere get turned on by demonstrations of raw power.

So now comes the welding.  With my new donated welder and 20kgs of donated 3.2mm rods I’m ready to go.  I have a ‘you beaut’ reactive welding helmet loaned by my son-in-law, hi again Blue, which electronically darkens when the arc flashes and makes it so much easier to scratch the arc.  I crank everything to the max and off we go.  Except the inverter at 3KW continuous and max 4.5KW drops out on overload.  Bugger!  So I disconnect the cottages and 3 fridges and everything else and try again.  I can only get through half a rod of 3.2mm.  So I backed off the current from 130A to maybe 120A and try again and it all works.  But I was having trouble getting enough heat into the puddle of molten steel to melt both plates of steel to form the weld.  I changed my action slightly to stitch a wider arc and dip into the corner more closely and managed to get decent welds.  But every time I changed rods the metal cools down and I had a bit I have to patch up.  I was running all the equipment to its max, but managed some pretty good welds in the end.  I really like welding.  I guess it’s the raw power mentioned above.  

A few days ago I had finished the firebox and got my son-in-law, hi once again Blue, to help me grunt it down to the sauna shed into place. 

Firebox complete

Firebox complete

I have redesigned the covering of the firebox to leave bricks top and bottom and leave the steel exposed between.  This hot steel is protected from painful human contact by aluminium security screens of just the right dimensions I happened to have in my shed.  It took me a while to connect my needs with the materials available, but I think I have achieved an elegant design.  The new model sauna should heat up much quicker and easily get to higher temps with a reduction in fuel use and start up times.  Dear frequent guests, better, hotter, sweatier, smoke free saunas now happening.   

With thicker steel, better welds, lower firebox body temps with much less brick insulation, I think this sauna will last out my time.  Pity really, I’m just getting good at this.  Anybody need a sauna? 

installed and finished

installed and finished

Feelin’ Good

Trying to blend in

Everything feels really good down here on the fungus farm.   You know and appreciate feeling good when you have just gone through a period of feeling bad.  The contrast heightens the pleasure.  My bit of feeling bad was maybe 5 days of having fevers and the disagreeable choice of violent coughing every 15 minutes or choking to death.  Discerning readers will have already deduced I took the former choice.  This was a 24 hour activity which left little time for healing sleep.  It is well recorded in the annals of science that the lack of the gentle calming beta brain waves, the data organising REM periods, and the cleansing delta waves leaves one feeling unrefreshed.  In fact a tottering wreck.  For a few days there I managed to get through some chores but felt like, and probably looked like, a zombie from some C grade movie.  

Now the sun is shining, birds singing (I swear they totally stopped while I was down in the dumps), and I had a good and productive day slashing grass and weeds, washing and catching up with chores.  We have all been there haven’t we?  Laid low by some virus or bacteria with only the hope of dying keeping us alive.  The triumph is to spring back with new enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm, triumphs and indeed springing becomes more challenging for us older folk, but hey, gotta keep trying.  

The weather has been rather ordinary being cool, totally overcast, and with light drizzly rain from time to time.  It happens a lot in May which at Possum Valley has the highest number of days of rain of any month.  Though by no means the highest rainfall.  Graphs and charts for Possum Valley weather are on my page “Rainfall”.  It is just as well I like rainy days as well as sunshine, living where I do.  So the weather a bit uncomfortable for my guests, but many have been rewarded with some good wildlife sightings.  In the last week, guests at both cottage had good views and pics of tree kangaroos just a few meters from both of the cottages.  Today I was servicing Blackbean Cottage and a platypus was feeding under the bridge.  Having finished the service, I stepped outside and there was a juvenile cassowary just 10m away.  Much to my surprise, (s)he didn’t run away but looked at me for some time and walked in front of me to within 5m.  I had some friends staying at the homestead, including a young lady from Canada, so I briskly walked past it hoping to bring them down for a perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a cassowary in the wild.  Much to my surprise it followed me up the hill just as they were exiting my house so my grand announcement was totally upstaged by the bird itself, before I had the chance for introductions.  They also saw saw a Victoria’s rifle bird, which is always a treat. 

I was babysitting my grandkids for 2 consecutive days this week, and for 2 days after that I was trying to reassemble my house from the wreckage.  I suppose it is my own fault.  If I shouted enough, I guess they would cease and desist with their constant and unlikely experiments into the properties and uses that my household objects can be put to.  I guess my weakness is a suspicion that they might actually be learning something from the seemingly random trail of destruction.  They are boys aged 2 & 4.  Only just as they both had birthdays in the last couple of weeks.  I forgot and they didn’t mention it because I suspect their parents didn’t tell them.  What a slack family I have reared.  

I went out on the town down in Cairns for the first time in this millenium.  

Trying to blend in

Trying to blend in

I had noticed the decor featured the class of clientele that the “Three Wolves” in Cairns was trying to attract.  I hope I posed in a suitably supercilious manner.  To serve bourbon, the barmen torched a piece of specially imported American cedar then upended the glass onto it to ‘smoke the glass’, before pouring the bourbon.  Quite theatrical and of dubious benefit.  There was music playing at a level that one had to speak up to be heard by even the person next to you.  This jacked up the volume until only bellowing in your companion’s ear could be understood unless one was adept at lipreading.  This broke up party conversations into one on one conversations.  I discovered what I had been missing for the last couple of decades in the social scene.  Not much, though it was intensely interesting as a social study.

My real excitement in going down to Cairns was finding a 2 bearing, 4 pole, 240v AC, single phase, 3.5 KVA generator.  I don’t suppose you get quite the same thrill as I do hearing those specs.  This was the machine I had tried to get 35 years ago to be told it was out of production.  It is old and battered outside, but looks much better inside.  The old man who had this machine lived in an industrial shed with basic living quarters on a mezzanine floor above.  His superb and crowded workshop was devoted to making fully working models of say a wreck recovery vessel for the delight of kids.  He and I were kindred spirits and I offered him $200 for the generator.  He didn’t even bargain and loaded me up with other stuff like 20 kg of welding rods, 30 kg of assorted bolts, springs etc.  A very generous man.

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