Sunday, February 9, 2014

An introduction to modding

Well, it has been quite some time. If you care to know, finishing an undergrad, applying for a masters, and preparing to raise a baby is very time consuming.

I was hoping that I would have some sweet projects to share in that time, but I do not. What I do have, however, is much experience gained from doing things for other people. Unfortunately, I either cannot share those or they are not really fit for this blog. In lieu of that, I thought I would continue giving tips and theories on doing certain projects. This time, it is modding in general!

Image courtesy of Roboduck:

Of course, this is modding in a certain kind of field. I'm talking mostly electronics and small appliance and/or furniture. In essence, I think you need to look for a few things when deciding to mod:
  1. Do you have vision?
  2. Do you have experience?
  3. Do you have money?
  4. What is the end goal?
These questions are largely important depending on what the project is for and who is affected by it. For example - since I am married and therefore share my resources with another, I consider the practical implications and whether they are worth it. Doing something just for fun is practical, too, but do you need something else a lot more than just fun right now? All are good questions to consider that can easily put brakes on a dream mod.

I will not extrapolate the above questions too much, but I just want to highlight potential restrictions. You really need to envision what you are doing. If you cannot see it, you had better get somebody to see it for you (ex. draw out your ideas from your explaining). Experience can be really affected by your situations. For example, my wife would never let me fiberglass and mod in a custom console in our family vehicle, but she would not care if I did it to my beater Civic. Why? Because I am just not that good at fiber-glassing (yet). Money restrictions are obvious. 

Lastly, the end goal. What do you really want from this project? This is important because the fact that your mod is functional may wash over the poor design or aesthetic. Or does aesthetic really matter to you? It is your call. Now to what this article is really about - what do I need practically to mod something?


You can never have enough. But seriously...

  • Dremel rotary tool: This handy power-tool has tens and possibly hundreds of attachments for cutting, grinding, buffing, engraving, finishing, etc. Don't let the small size fool you, some Dremels can hack anything a larger specialized tool can. I currently own the Dremel 4000.
  • Head lamp: Sometimes you just need two hands. Obvious right? Sometimes you also need light pointed directly where you are looking on the fly - that is something other lights cannot provide. Remember, we are dealing with small components or intricate details here.
  • Internet device: Whether it be the Civic Forums, Mod Zoo, Tom's Hardware, Reddit, or Hardware Canucks, you should have immediate access to the internet to solve problems or get inspiration for your mod. Do not waste creative time running between your office and garage, take a device you do not mind getting dusty and Google away!
  • Vise-Grips: These handy pliers grip to almost anything you want and clamp anything you do not have hands for. Do not by cheap knock-offs, these tools will pay off the first time you use them. Note: They can be hard to figure out if you have never seen one.
  • Loctite and epoxy: Loctite is traditionally known for locking bolts in place. It is a contact adhesive that glues in seconds (Be careful not to glue your fingers to things! It happens). This is great if you really just need something to stick together while doing something else. I've even used it for mating tweeters to car doors when the barbs on the tweeters do not work. Wonderful stuff! Loctite is especially useful when combined with epoxy, which is a slow-drying and extremely strong adhesive. Use the Loctite in one small spot to keep two pieces together, while the epoxy does its job over night. Note: This is useful when you accidentally break something or shatter it to pieces. I've literally puzzle-pieced plastic parts back together this way. 
Obviously, you need more tools than this, but these are some overlooked and great investments. 


Experimenting is fun, but you are guaranteed better results if you take your time and think about things. I know, I know...sometimes we just want to get things done! Following simple procedures can mitigate large amounts of errors that take up more time, however.

When doing a computer-hardware servicing course years ago, I learned a simple troubleshooting technique that you should do every time you work on a malfunctioning computer. Basically, you unplug all components except the basics (we need power, CPU, and RAM). From there, you plug in wires and components until an error appears (one might not). If the problem occurs when you have unplugged everything, congratulations! You have eliminated over %50 of the possibilities. In 5 minutes or less, you are a long way to fixing the problem.

Apply the same to modding. Double check, triple check, measure five times, cut once. Do what you need to feel certain - and try not freak out when you mess up.

Draw your plans, have labelled trays for small screws and small parts (or tape them a piece of paper), follow the steps to a tee, Google the heck out of your idea. Learn from the mistakes of people who tried what you did and take them seriously. For example, when I built my fiberglass sub-box for my Civic, I got impatient in the layering process. One guy on the web kept his mesh from bubbling by cutting 1"-2"x12" strips and layering them in minimally overlapping layers. It worked beautifully until I decided to cut massive pieces and bubbles began. Without grinding I was doomed to have bubbled layers. To fix it, I cut my losses and filled some of the bubbles by injecting resin. I dubbed the meant-to-be-smooth box the "Bass Boulder" due to its bumpy appearance.

Again...Try not to freak out when you mess up. We all have to learn somehow.

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