Building a garage door from scratch – Part 1

Welcome the first real post from The Garage section. Here we will build a garage door from scratch on the old barn. The project turned out to be quite ambitious in both scale and time constraints, but was tons of fun! Many of us dream of the perfect garage space, but they are elusive and usually they need to be built. In this journey we try to at least improve the garage.

I appreciate the idea of having a door instead of a large gaping hole on the side of the barn. Just because it’s nice to be able to close the workshop during night and to shield against all the large beasts and animals, odd crooks or simply blowing leaves and other annoying natural phenomenon. It also provides an extra layer of “security”. However it is not intended to be a bank vault by any means!

Since it’s an old barn and not a standard garage with any standard measurements, a standard garage door kit will need tons of fitting and fiddling and will end up more expensive. Over here we like to keep to the DIY spirit and save some hard earned money meanwhile. The bonus is that we can keep the old barn look and get style points where a modern garage door would look completely out of place.

Initial opening in barn
The original look and no door whatsoever. The new board over the opening was put in place to make a reference line.

Preparation

A custom made solution will need some planning in order to succeed. In terms of making a building from scratch it usually means land surveying and a lot of leveling. However since the building is already here, it makes things a bit easier for us and we only need to measure on the building itself. Lets not mention the crookedness of this building! The dimensions of the door had to be decided. The plan ended up to make it as make it as big as possible! What about 5 meters wide and 2,7 meters tall? Even bigger than the existing opening, which means making a bigger hole. That way it will be possible to drive in two cars straight without issues. It can also fit quite tall cars, like a G-Wagon…

The most complicated function of the garage is some kind of opening mechanism. Due to the scale of the doors a swinging mechanism should be avoided to preserve space and sagging. The barn is around 12 meters wide and there is enough room for a sliding rail system, where the whole door can be pushed along the entire length of the barn. After some looking around for solutions , there was an offer for a set of rails and rollers for this purpose in a nearby warehouse. Perfect timing!

Blueprint of Garage door
Blueprint of Garage door and slide rail system.

The assembly was then drafted out on a blueprint so it’s easier to do the construction later on. This also gives an overview on the amount of material needed. From the blueprint we can see that 10 meters of rails and at least two rollers are needed. Roughly 110 meter of frame timber for the door as well as 40 meters of wide boards for supporting the rail system. The facing panels was not bought though, since we had some panels lying around the storage already. Unfortunately this turned out to not be enough and the reason why the job could not be completely finished this side of winter. Part 2 coming in the spring!

Cutting to make a bigger hole for the door
Cutting the edge to make the opening for the garage door bigger.
Materials ready for fabrication
Lots of material needed to be fabricated. The long beams are quite unwieldy at their full length!

Fabrication and construction

Fabrication here is preparing all the pieces so they can be fit together. Since we are using wood as primary building material, it usually consists of careful measurements and cutting boards with a saw. Often 45° cuts are needed, but since this is a square construction mostly 90° cuts were made which are faster to do. We used both a supported circular saw and a hand saw for smaller cuts. The fabrication is all about preparing the pieces for the skeleton frame of the door and preparing the rail system.

To start the outer frame was cut and put together, then the long horizontal beams. We used nails to secure the beams, but they drift out quite fast unless the frame is very rigid. So it needs to lie still on the ground until it’s more rigid. Some hammering on the sides was done at the end to drive in those moving nails.

Fabricating the garage door frame
Fabricating the garage door frame

Making a square frame without diagonal support will make the whole construction quite wiggly and flexible, so some diagonal support is needed. Normally they could go on the inside, but here there is very little room between the door and the wall with the sliding mechanism,. They are close to make snug fit. Then the diagonal beams have to be recessed into the the frame. This added at least another hour of work, but in the end it was totally worth it. It made the construction not able to flex and gave a flush finish needed for the wall clearance.

Then the horizontal beams had to be mounted. This required careful measurement between the horizontal beams and some tricky nailing. The nails can go straight in except the third beam, which needs nails driven in diagonally. Making the frame took around a full day including getting the timber early in the day.

Garage door frame finished
Garage door frame finished

With the frame finished, the sliding rail mechanism had to be built. The 10 meter sliding rail needed to be secured with angled brackets fastened with large bolts. The bolts are long and needed to go through 3 layers of wooden boards. So the full 10 meter length of the rail needed reinforcement boards, as well as making enough space for the garage door out from the wall itself.

Mounting and aligning the sliding rail mechanism was a long process which involved climbing up and down ladders while doing careful measurements to get the whole thing level. Rechecking and using the measuring tape often. It is very important to mark the center of a drilling hole clearly since few millimeter difference will not make the brackets aligned. It is important that the rail ends up exactly level so it won’s start sliding by itself or will be harder to push in one direction than the other.

The whole day consisted of making reinforcement boards in the front as well as on the backside. And everything had to be done from up on ladders, sometimes quite high. The sliding rail which is of galvanized steel, needed drilled holes for the mounting brackets. It was very laborious and you could not see as clearly a result as the previous frame fabrication, since the sliding mechanism consists of just some boards and bolts. The most funny thing was the amount of leg pain the day after from all the ladder climbing!

With the the sliding rail secured and the rollers mounted on the garage door frame, the frame could be now hanged up on the wall. The sliding rollers have a neat adjustment feature so the door can be either lowered or raised for fine tuning. It was very easy to get the door on the wall, but it’s definitely a two person job.

Door mounted on wall
Door hanged on the sliding rail finally

Panels and Painting

Well unfortunately we didn’t have enough panels for covering all the area of the door. So had to wrap up the job for this season. Winter was right around the corner when this was made. A temporary tarp was put over instead of panels just to keep out the weather. It’s already 100 times better than the large hole. In Part 2 we will wrap up with the finishing touches like the covering panels and painting. Maybe putting some hinges on and other small details.

Garage door frame and sliding mechanism finished
Garage door frame and sliding mechanism finished. Needs some facing of the door. As you might have noticed the door goes a bit too close to the ground. This is an issue in winter since ice will completely seal the door making it impossible to open. So the door needs to be raised a few centimeters off the ground.

All these building activities was done together with my Dad, so a proper applause should go to him for his expertise on building craftsmanship! A proper father and son activity for sure. The whole thing took around 3 days to complete.

Cheers, Robs out!

The Garage

Smarter, better, more love: The Garage 2.0

The Garage is the newest section over here at the page. So what’s all the fuzz about? Let me give you a little background story to the garage.

The car fixing on my part started in a very humble work space back in 2012. It was in an old barn without lights and without possibilities of closing doors so it was always exposed to the cold and wind. At least it was under a roof which makes things a lot easier, at least things don’t get wet.

Then is the issue about the floor, which was gravel and not asphalt or a concrete slab. And I had barely enough floor stone tiles to cover the area of the car. This was frustrating, but the most frustration was neither the cold or the lack of a flat ground surface. It was in fact the lighting. As the complexity of the work continues you start feeling the limits of the work space. It’s very dark without good lighting and tedious to move the work lights all the time. And when night comes it becomes pitch black outside the beam of the work lights making it hard to even find tools.

Even that said I managed to restore the 280CE and it was mostly throughout a single winter when I had a small gap in my studies. All done in the humble work space inside the simple barn.

In fact I am still am using the same barn now as the primary work space, but have slowly started to improve the premises since then. So far I’ve installed some lights, done some floor leveling and placed more stones tiles. The barn is very old and also in some need of repairs a few places. Some paint would not hurt either!

I want the garage to be an inspirational journey on how a DIY’er can turn a simple work space into a nice garage with a small budget and some effort. Already in the next article I have lined up, we will install a home made garage door which I’m pretty excited about.

Stay tuned until next time, Robs out!

Changing the Exhaust pipes in the w123 280CE

There was this annoying hole in the exhaust from last summer. It was the thin sheet under front muffler that had cracked and I had it welded just before the MOT last year. Unfortunately the job was poorly done by the workshop. Another lesson learned on why we should fix our own cars…. The fix ended up costing almost as much as the new pipes, so that was also dumb. On the very day before this summers epic 3000 km road trip of crossing Norway I had to change the entire exhaust system. The pressure was on to get it finished before the trip!

The poorly welded exhaust only got noticeable few weeks before the upcoming road trip, but another car was planned to be used so there was no pressure initially. Then because of circumstances it was decided to use the 280CE after all and the exhaust leak needed to be addressed asap. I decided to swap out all the pipes since some rust was starting to appear in the pipe welds and its easier to just swap the whole thing at once.

I ordered the exhaust less than two weeks before from Germany and it arrived two days before the road trip was starting. Just in time. It only costed me 500$ which I think is a bargain for a classic car! The quality also seems very good as well.

Welded front muffler w123
Poorly welded front muffler. Now junk.

Stage 1 – Getting the car up in the air

You need some good space to wrestle with the large exhaust system under the car. I drove the front of the car up on ramps then lifted the back of the car on jack stands so the whole body was up in the air. I leave the tires on for extra safety and don’t lover the jack either. Also make sure to block the front wheels from rolling on the ramps. I’m a fan of redundancy and here I even placed a couple of jack stands in the front which is kind of unnecessary, but makes it feel somehow safer.

Car on jack stands
Car up in the air. Potentially dangerous and safety should be on your mind. Here I have redundancy by leaving the jack in place and using redundant jack stands. Not recommended to be under the car during an earthquake…

Stage 2 – Removing the old pipes

This is usually the most time consuming job involving rusted fasteners and wrestling with stuck pipes. I was planning to only change the pipes up to the down pipes, since the down pipes are in a really good condition compared to the rest of the exhaust. The issue then become separating the down pipes from the pipes underneath the car.

exhaust clamps
Front exhaust clamps

I started removing the clamps for the front pipes and loosening the system from the transmission mount. Then unhooking the four rubber donuts from the rear muffler. To avoid too much stress on the pipes I placed something under the rear muffler for it to rest on, in this case a tree stub.

rear muffler 280ce
Rear muffler resting on a wood stub

Then the issue with sliding off the exhaust system from the down pipes. They were extremely stuck and you’re not able to twist them since it’s a pair of dual pipes. I was first trying to push them out with putting my entire weight with my legs and kicking. Then I tried heating the outer pipes with a heater torch. After a while struggling with no success and them not moving at all I had to make a drastic decision. I needed to cut them out without damaging the inner down pipes. This would mean the old exhuast would be trash, but it’s old and not worth much anyway.

cutting the exhaust pipes
Cutting the exhaust pipes.

In order to get the old outer pipe off, it needs to be split and then removed. It would be impossible to try pushing them off otherwise. I started by cutting the pipes across a few centimeters before the mating point. Here I used an angle grinder with a thin cutting disk for about half the way, then a manual cutting saw blade for the rest. A bit tedious, but will get the job done. The best would be to use a hack saw which is much safer than an angle grinder and faster than the manual saw. However I don’t have one. Maybe now it’s a time to acquire one?

exhaust pipes cut
Pipes are cut and also a slit is made lengthwise with an angle grinder. Care is taken to not cut all the way through to th einner time.

After the pipes were separated I could remove the old exhaust system. The old stubs of the outer pipes are just as stuck and a slit have to be cut down the middle and care have to taken in order to not damage the inner tubes. The only tool for this is an angle grinder. Watch out for sparks in your face!

Split the pipes
Split the pipes with a sharp punch and drive it in with a hammer. Eventually the metal will split. Use ear protection since it tends to be very loud.

When there is a slit along the length of the pipe I could use a punch with a sharp end and drive it into the slit until it grew larger and eventually the pipe will split along its entire length. Then it was super easy to remove the outer pipe.

Splitting pipes with a punch
Splitting the pipes with a punch. Super easy!

I was surprised of how effective it was, and it was sour that I wasted so much time trying to free the pipes with different methods before I ended up doing this. I was also surprised to find that there was essentially no rust that was binding up the pipes, instead it looked like the metal had expanded into each other and exhaust coke had made this kind of glue between them. Now that the old exhaust was removed, I could mount the new system on.

Stage 3 – Fitting the new pipes

This was the fastest part of the job. It was basically lining up the three exhaust part components, putting on the clamps and tighten them. When the full length is assembled I could slide it under and mount it to the down pipes. Don’t forget to slide on the clamps before joining the exhaust pipes.

Hangers different from old system
Shape of hangers different from the old system.

I found having some help with the assembly part is useful due to the quite heavy and large part that needs to be aligned, but also doable alone if you plan all the moves ahead in time.

The exhaust kit came with four new rubber donut muffler hangers. These rubber hangers crack at an incredibly fast rate due to the heat of the exhaust and they rarely lasts more than 1-2 years before they break.

New exhaust system
New muffler being very shining, almost looks fake.

Stage 4 – Road trip

Luckily I managed to sort it out the evening before and could leave the next day.The road trip went fine and went without issues all the 3000 km. The tail pipes of the new exhaust have a slightly different shape and the heat reaches the rear bumper a bit more making a subtle bluish tint on the chrome which is quite cool.

280CE in Lofoten

I have the habit of doing jobs in hurry lately where I needed to travel shortly afterwards. Unfortunately this introduces a lot of stress and takes the joy out of fixings cars a bit. I need to plan better indeed.

Cheers, Robs out.

How to change the front shocks and sway bar links in Mercedes w140 S-Class

Changing out worn shocks might be most effective and cheapest fix that can transform the ride handling of your car for the better. My S600 had very noticeable up and down wobbling when driving over bumps and a quite large body roll making in tight corners. It was becoming a bit boat like there at the end. The S600 is a very heavy car and needs good handling when going fast. A flatter ride in corners also makes for a more comfortable drive overall, so your passengers don’t wake up from their naps.

Changing the shocks will reduce wear on other more expensive suspension components like bushings and tires, while overly worn might damage the suspension. Changing the shocks is in your interest to be an economical DIYer.

The front suspension uses normal a McPherson setup with separated gas shocks detached from the springs and can easily be removed. The rear suspension on the other hand uses the more complicated SLS leveling suspension setup and don’t use shocks at all. Instead it uses hydraulic rams along with pressure spheres. More effort and money is needed when doing maintenance on the rear suspension than the front. The SLS however normally lasts a lot longer if you remember to change the fluid once in a while.

When changing the shocks you should also use the opportunity to inspect/change some other wear items easily accessible in the front suspension. This could be sway bar links or the brake rotors and pads. The sway bar links wear down faster than the other suspension components due to their tiny ball joints and should be replaced whenever cracks appear in the sleeves or any slack starts to be noticeable. Worn sway bar links can make annoying sounds for you and your passengers. We all know expensive cars are known for being the most squeaky cars around, let’s change that!

Preparation

You should expect to use around half day to a day on this job, depending on your skill set, the amount of rusty bolts and your tools at disposal. It’s something you can do easily on a weekend. When doing the job I was even under time pressure since I had to catch a flight the same day. I managed to catch the flight and get the job.

If you want to bundle more front suspension jobs while doing the shocks, I recommend removing the front wheels and inspect the suspension such as the sway bar links, brake pads and rotors as well as the tie rods. Any more advanced jobs than that you will will require a lot more time invested so be sure to plan accordingly. Usually large front end jobs require a re-alignment of the suspension, but is not required here.

Parts needed (as described in the article):

  • 2x front shocks. I recommend premium brands such as Bilstein or Meyle
  • 1x Left front sway bar link
  • 1x Right front sway bar link

Tools needed:

I ended up using quite a tool collection because of rusted bolts on the sway bar links, but this might not be the case for you. I think this collection of tools goes into most home car mechanics tool box, but there might be a couple of them you should consider getting. Always better to be prepared than sitting there stuck without finishing the job.

  • Jack and 2 jack stands
  • Socket set
  • Long breaker bar
  • A set of long spanners
  • High quality hex sockets
  • Torque wrench
  • Hammer
  • Rubber/plastic hammer
  • Pin punch driver
  • Locking pliers
  • Long Hex keys
  • Propane blow torch (super handy when things are stuck)
  • XZN (12-spline) sockets (super handy when Hex nut gets rounded off)
  • Blue thread lock (for brake caliper bolts)
XZN socket set
This is how XZN Sockets looks like. They are always a savior when hex bolts gets rounded off.

Procedure

Start by raising the front of the car and remember to use the E-brake together with wheel stops. Place the front on jack stands. I also like to keep the jack in the up position as redundancy on the side I’m working with. You can lift the w140 with the jack on the rubber jacking pad and place the jack stands more towards the center of the car under the sub frame.

Jacking up a Mercedes w140
Jacking up the w140 with a garage jack and jack stands. Notice the rubber pad location is used with the jack and the jack stands are placed under the sub frame. Always use some padding between the car body with the jack and the jack stands, such as hard rubber or some wood to protect the under body from rust.

The shocks can be removed when the calipers are in place, but to remove the sway bar links, both the calipers and the brake rotors need to be removed to access it. I will first describe how to replace the shocks since it is a much easier job. Then I will describe how to replace the sway bar links.

Shocks

Start by removing the lower bolt. Use a long breaker bar and a large spanner to break the bolt loose. Then move to a ratchet to get the nut off. Use the jack to lift the lower suspension arm a little bit to relieve some tension in the bolt through the bracket hole. Then use a punch to smack out the bolt with a hammer. Be careful if the bolt catches too much, then try to relieve more pressure before continuing. Most shocks do not come with replacements for the lower bolt and nut, so try keeping these in good shape.

Removing lower bolt on damper
Remove the lower bolt on the damper.

When the bolt is loose, open the hood and locate the top nut. The top part of the damper can look different from each other. You have to keep the strut bar still with a hex socket or flat pliers while using a spanner to unbolt it. There exists a special tool to do this with a socket, but is frankly unnecessary except if you’re addicted to tools. This locking nut always comes with a replacement nut and you should throw away the old one. When the locking nut is off you can easily remove the old damper.

Location of top part of damper under the hood
Location of top part of the damper. This old damper uses a hex setup for keeping the damper still while loosening the locking nut.

Before installing the new damper, push it completely down a few times to relieve tension. The installation orientation has no influence if the brand does not specify it. Start by installing it with the top part and the top locking nut. When installing the new damper you must take of not letting the damper shaft rotate while turning the locking nut. Keep it secured while fastening the locking nut. This is to reduce the risk of breaking the internal seal of the damper so it will start leaking. The nut does not need to be extremely tight, but do tighten it until you feel it is secure. It is very important to make a re-tight after the car is on the ground. I will remind you of this again shortly.

Now you will probably notice that the new damper is quite shorter than the old one when you took it out. You therefore have to compress the spring by jacking up the lower suspension arm until you can align up the bolt hole. This might be a bit tricky and use a hammer to punch the bolt through since it is nearly impossible to align them up 100%. Again take care of not ruining the threads on the bolt. The lower bolt and nut should be torqued to 80Nm.

Front shocks w140
Old Vs New shocks. Notice the old one even leaks oil!

Front sway bar links

Now on to the more fun part where you can expect to meet more of a challenge. First you need to turn the wheel you’re working on all the way out to get access on the backside. Start by removing the caliper, it is held by two bolts. You may require some force to break them loose. Prepare some method too hook the calipers up in the spring to relieve tension on the flexible brake hoses. Never let them hang freely. I used long zip ties here and I could just to cut it off when done. But a simple S-shaped hook would have been even easier!

Front suspension and caliper
Turn the wheel out completely before starting.

The caliper might be difficult to get off if the brake rotor has a lip on the edge. Use a pry bar or the back side of a hammer to press in the outer brake pad by using the rotor for leverage. Be careful not to damage the pad material. When the caliper is loose, secure it up onto the spring.

Location sway bar link w140
Location of sway bar link. Notice only one accessible bolt. The other one is behind the disk rotor.
Brake caliper w140 removed and hanging
The brake caliper is remove and secured in a zip tie from the spring to relieve tension in the flexible brake hose and brake caliper sensor.

When the brake caliper is loosened you can start remove the break disk rotor. It is secured by a tiny hex nut, but you might find this lost or broken. Mine was broken off on the right side, but the left one was fine. Loosen the nut with a hex socket. If the brake rotor is sticking to the hub, try hammering gently on it with a plastic hammer. If it does not pop off, it can be quite frozen due to rust and you’ll need heat to loosen it. Ignite up your blow torch and heat the area just around the hub. This should expand the rotor just enough so it will pop off with a light hammer blow. Over heating the hub might make the hub grease melt and run out, so be careful with the heat.

Brake rotor locking nut w140
Brake rotor locking nut with hex. This might have broken off already.

Now it’s the time to locate the outer sway bar link nut. Cross your fingers for no rust. It is located right under the brake rotor. The locking mechanism is not the best engineering, since you’ll need either a special tool or trying to combine a socket with some magic tricks. I used a socket, secured it with locking pliers and then used a hex key sticking through it. After some fiddling I managed to get the nut off. You can usually loosen the bolt the first few turns by using just the socket normally.

The upper nut should be the easier of the two to get off, since the lower one usually gets all the rust and is easier to round off the hex bolt head. Soak it thoroughly with rust penetration fluid and let it work for 15 minutes. Then use a hammer and whack that nut good a couple of times.

Removing front sway bar link nut w140
Removing the lower sway bar link nut. Cross your fingers that the hex will not round out. I only got a 50% success rate.

I got lucky with one side, but the other side I had to drive in an over sized XZN socket with a hammer so it’s surely stuck in there. Then I could get enough torque to loosen the rusted nut. This will obviously destroy the part, but it’s thrown out anyway. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of this process since I was struggling a bit and running out of time.

Broken sway bar link sleeve
The sleeve was broken on the sway bar link. This does not take long until squeaking starts!

Now you should be able to remove the sway bar link. Go fetch the one that fits depending on the side you are working (hopefully you order the correct ones). Fit the top side first, then you move on to the lower side. It can a be a bit tricky to fit the lower side onto the sway bar again. Get a long bar or a long spanner and wedge it between the spring to get leverage to push down on the sway bar.

Use leverage to fit the sway bar link to the sway bar
Use leverage to fit the sway bar link to the sway bar.

It is not necessary to tighten the sway bar links very hard, just snug with enough force so they sit on. Remember these will probably rust tight faster than you can say cheese and the hex bolts will round off again.

old vs new sway bar links
Old vs New Sway bar links.

Caution: Before assembling the rotors, make sure you brush off any old rust off the hub face and the inside of the rotor. This is to prevent rumbling while braking and that the rotor sits on straight! You can use a steel brush and a rough pad to do this. Also brush off any surface rust on the front side of the rotor where it meets the wheel.

The front caliper bolts need a layer of blue thread locker on them since there are no shims or similar. Use 115Nm torque when tightening the caliper bolts.

It can be a bit tricky to mount the wheel if the little rotor locking nut is missing, so a replacement might come in handy here. Otherwise you have to align the hub with the rotor first and then with the wheel when sticking in the bolts.

Now I hope you will take on this task without paying stupid amounts of hours for mechanics to figure this out at a workshop. Go do it yourself!

Cheers, Robs out!