Picking up Nickels

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

DIY "Golden Striper" Lawn Striper Build

I've spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of months trying to get my lawn looking like it used to, which has included watching several videos on the Grass Daddy YouTube channel. I was particularly impressed by the heavy duty boat roller-based lawn striper he reviewed here, but I was surprised to learn that the starting price for an appropriate-sized unit for a lawn tractor like mine was nearly $300! I found some info online about people building their own boat roller-based stripers (see here, here, and here at lawnsite.com for inspiration), but there wasn't really a single source that had detailed info about sizing, sourcing parts, measurements, problems encountered, helpful tips, detailed cost breakdown, build steps, etc. At that point, I decided it might be fun to build one and share my experience to hopefully help others and minimize the experimentation and guesswork a project like this typically ends up causing people like me.

1. Project Goals:

  • Build a high quality striper for less than the ~$300 starting cost of the commercial unit
  • Use reasonably priced and readily available components that are easily acquired by the average person
  • Use only basic tools and construction techniques without resorting to specialized skills like metal fabrication, welding, etc.
  • Provide a detailed breakdown of parts used, where to get them, and what they cost
  • Be able to mount the striper to my tractor without drilling any additional holes in it
  • The striper should work with my tractor when either the mulching kit or the grass bagger is installed
  • Share specifics of my build to hopefully help others avoid guesswork and mistakes that I encountered

2. Build Materials:

Note: I’ve never seen a lawn striper like the one reviewed by Grass Daddy in person and have no idea about the specifics of their design and construction. This build is based on research I did at lawnsite.com followed by trial and experimentation with components that I was able to easily find locally and online.

This striper is primarily made out of strut channel (similar to pieces of a large heavy duty Erector Set) along with specialized strut brackets and mounting hardware. Oddly, I didn't find a good online source for strut-related parts, so I bought all of those materials at Lowe's and Home Depot. While the strut channel was the same price at both places, I did find that the strut brackets and mounting hardware were slightly cheaper at Home Depot for some reason. If you decide to order online from Lowe's or Home Depot, you can save a few bucks by using the ebates.com portal (1% at Lowe's) or the plenti.com portal (1% at Home Depot, 1% at Lowe's). Please note that the strut channel brackets have pre-drilled holes ready to accept standard 1/2" hex bolts, so they along with 1/2" nuts, bolts, and washers will be used extensively for this build.

The other main component used were Yates rocker/wobble rollers (typically used on boat trailers). These are the small rubber wheels that actually roll over the grass blades and bend them in the desired direction to create the striping effect. The wobble rollers are the most expensive components to source, and the best deal I found was from easternmarine.com, although I bought from their eBay store because the shipping and handling charges were more favorable for my zip code. As with Lowe's, you can also save a little by using the ebates.com portal (up to 2% at eBay). Another technique I often use to save money when buying on eBay is to wait for a targeted eBay Bucks promotional email. In this case I bought the rollers after I was offered 8% of my purchase in eBay Bucks. Please note that 5/8" inches is the smallest shaft size that the Yates wobble rollers use, so we will be using a 5/8" axle for this build.

I should also note that I also bought a few parts at my local Tractor Supply Co. I found that browsing through the hardware in their store helped me come up some good ideas for mounting the striper to my tractor.

3. Sizing:

The general rule of thumb is that the combined width of the rollers (the striper width) should be approximately the same as the distance between the centers of each rear tire since the rear tires will already be compressing the grass blades anyway. For my John Deere lawn tractor with a 38" mower deck, that distance is about 27". I will be using Yates 530R-5P wobble rollers for this build, which are 5" tall and 3" wide, so I decided to use 9 rollers (9 x 3" = 27") for my setup. Of course, there will also be additional space overhead on the axle for brackets, washers, and PVC spacers, so I would approximate that with the width of an additional 3" roller for a 30" striper width ((9 x 3") + 3" = 30").

To accommodate that 30" striper width, I know I will need an axle slightly longer than that to account for the 5/8" screw collars used on each end of the axle to keep all of the components in place. I would estimate that at ~1" for each end of the axle. Therefore, an axle approximately 32" long should handle a 30" striper with an extra 1" on each side (30" + 1" + 1" = 32"). This axle sizing estimate assumes that four strut brackets are used to attach the axle to the strut channel. If larger striper widths are desired, the use of four strut brackets should scale to configurations with additional wobble rollers without issue.

Similarly, the strut channel doesn't have to be as long as the 30" striper width because it only needs to hold the strut brackets in place (since the axle is directly connected to the strut brackets). I estimated that the strut should be one 3" roller width shorter than the 30" striper width so that the end of the strut channel would approximately line up with the center of each outer roller. In my case, that would be a 27" (30" - 3") strut channel length. However, the slots cut into the strut channel are 2" on center, so I rounded my strut channel length up to 28" so that I would be able to cut it centered between two slots.

The following estimates should give you a rough idea of what you need to buy for your particular setup. However, I would highly recommend doing a axle test build of all of the rollers, spacers, washers, and screw collars BEFORE cutting your axle or strut channel to size. Please be sure that you're satisfied with how everything fits on the axle and how the strut brackets line up on the strut channel before you cut anything:

Desired Striper Width # Rollers Approximate Axle Length Approximate Strut Length
30" 9 32" 28"
33" 10 35" 30"
36" 11 38" 34"
39" 12 41" 36"
42" 13 44" 40"
45" 14 47" 42"

With that in mind, here are the actual values from my build:

Actual Striper Width # Rollers Actual Axle Length Actual Strut Length
30 1/4" 9 31 7/16”" 28"

4. Parts Breakdown:

I will separate the parts list into two sections, Striper Body Parts (which everyone would need for the build) and Striper Mount Parts (which are mower-specific):

Striper Body Parts:

From Lowe's:

  • (1) 10' SUPERSTRUT 1-5/8-in x 13/16-in Gold-Galvanized Half Slot Channel Strut: (Item #20281) - $20.74
    The frame of the striper. I had to buy a 10' piece, and only ended up needing about half of it. Also available at the Home Depot (SKU #863322) for $20.74.
  • (1) Hillman 3-ft x 5/8-in Hot-RolLED Weldable Steel Metal Round: (Item # 216209) - $10.32
    The axle of the striper. If you need an axle larger than 36", something like the 8' 5/8" grounding rod at Lowe's (Item #70861) or Home Depot (SKU #676837) could be a possible solution.
  • (1) Charlotte Pipe 1/2-in x 10-ft 315 Sdr 13.5 PVC Pipe: (Item # 23987) - $2.02
    This pipe is used on the 5/8" axle as spacers between wheels and brackets. Standard 1/2" Sched 40 PVC pipe won't work since the inner dimension is smaller than the 5/8” axle. However, the inner dimension of the 1/2” SDR 13.5 PVC pipe will work just fine. To be 100% certain, verify that the 5/8” axle fits inside the 1/2” PVC pipe in the store when you buy it. Again, this is a 10' piece of pipe, so I had quite a bit left over.
  • (4) Hillman Standard (SAE) Hex Bolt 3/8" x 3/4": (Item # 61832) - $0.12
  • (4) Hillman 3/8-in Zinc-Plated Standard (SAE) Nylon Insert Lock Nut: (Item # 63405) - $0.18
  • (8) Hillman 0.375-in x 1-in Zinc-plated Standard (SAE) Flat Washer: (Item # 63308) - $0.14
  • (4) Hillman 3/8-in Standard (SAE) Split Lock Washer: (Item # 63410) - $0.20
    This common 3/8" hardware is used to fasten the top and bottom pieces of strut channel together.
  • (16) Hillman Standard (SAE) Hex Bolt 1/2" x 1": (Item # 61834) - $0.39
  • (16) Hillman 0.500-in x 1.37-in Zinc-plated Standard (SAE) Flat Washer: (Item # 63309) - $0.20
    This common 1/2" hardware is used to fasten the strut brackets to the strut channel.

Lowe's Striper Body Parts Total: $45.64

From Home Depot:

  • (8) Superstrut 3.5” x 4” 4-Hole 90 Degree Angle Strut Bracket - Gold Galvanized: (SKU #236244) - $2.58
    Used to connect the axle to the strut channel and to connect the mower to the striper. Also available at Lowe's (Item # 45685) for $3.26. Note: Always connect the shorter 3.5" end of the bracket to the strut channel! This will provide additional clearance for the wobble rollers as well as provide the mount hardware with a slightly longer reach to the mower.
  • (4) 1/2 in. Superstrut Channel Spring Nuts (5-Pack): (SKU #798602) - $5.03
    Used with the common 1/2" bolts and washers from Lowe's to fasten the strut brackets to the strut channel. Also available at Lowe's (Item # 598780) for $5.18.
  • (1) 5/8 in. Zinc-Plated Cut Washer (25 per Box): (SKU #330847) - $6.47
  • (3) Everbilt 5/8 in. Zinc-Plated Cut Washer: (SKU #668192) - $0.33
    These (28) 5/8" washers were used on the 5/8" axle between wheels, brackets, and PVC spacers.
  • (2) Climax 5/8 in. Bore Zinc-Plated Mild Steel Set Screw Collar: (Internet #203025026) - $1.45
    Used on each end of the 5/8" axle to hold everything together. These were only available as a ship to store item when I bought them, but I later found them sold in a two pack at Tractor Supply Co (SKU #119528099) for $4.99. Alternatively, something like these 5/8-Inch Axle Cap Nuts could be used instead.

Home Depot Striper Body Parts Total: $51.12

From easternmarine.com (via eBay store):

  • (9) Yates 530R-5P wobble rollers: (Stock # 5272021) - ~$7.72 with s/h

easternmarine.com Striper Body Parts Total: $69.45

Final Striper Body Parts Total: $166.21

Striper Mount Parts:

As stated earlier, one of my goals was to be able to mount the striper to my tractor without drilling any additional holes in it. As luck would have it, my tractor has two 1/2" mounting holes on the rear of the machine that are 18 1/2” high with a distance of 12 1/2” between them.

From Lowe's:

  • (8) Hillman Standard (SAE) Hex Bolt 1/2" x 1": (Item # 61834) - $0.39
  • (12) Hillman 1/2-in Zinc-Plated Standard (SAE) Nylon Insert Lock Nut (Item # 63406) - $0.24
  • (12) Hillman 0.500-in x 1.37-in Zinc-plated Standard (SAE) Flat Washer: (Item # 63309) - $0.20
  • (12) Hillman 1/2-in Standard (SAE) Split Lock Washer: (Item # 63411) - $0.22
  • (4) Hillman Standard (SAE) Hex Bolt 1/2" x 1 1/2": (Item # 61832) - $0.12
    This common 1/2" hardware is used to fasten the various strut brackets together.

Lowe's Striper Mount Parts Total: $12.96

From Home Depot:

  • (6) 7.25" Superstrut 4-Hole Flat Straight Bracket, Gold Galvanized: (SKU #236504) - $2.02
  • (1) Everbilt 1/2 in. Yellow Zinc Grade 8 Flat Washer (3-Piece): (SKU #368555) - $0.94
    I also used one additional 1/2" washer from my spare parts stash. Since the mount hardware is pretty mower-specific, I didn't worry about accounting for the cost of this part.
  • Optional: (2) Climax 1/2 in. Bore Zinc-Plated Mild Steel Set Screw Collar: (Internet #203025022) - $1.21
    Originally intended to be used with the Arnold wheel bolts from Tractor Supply Co mentioned below. As with the 5/8" screw collars, these were also only available as a ship to store item when I bought them. They are also sold in a two pack at Tractor Supply Co (SKU #119529899) for $4.99.

Home Depot Striper Mount Parts Total: $15.48

From Tractor Supply Co:

  • (2) CountyLine Adjustable Clevis Pin, 1/2 in. x 2 in., S175007TSC: (SKU #183333399) - $2.29
  • (2) CountyLine Hairpin Cotter Pins, 1/2 in. - 5/8 in., Pack of 2: (SKU #183341499) - $1.29
  • Optional: (1) Arnold ASB-150 Universal Wheel Bolts: (SKU #444118599) - $2.99
    Originally intended to be used to mount the strut bracket to the mower. I ended up going with the clevis pins since I thought they were a better solution.

Tractor Supply Co Mount Parts Total: $7.16

Final Striper Mount Parts Total: $35.60

Total Striper Cost = $166.21 (striper body) + $35.60 (striper mount) = $201.81

The numerous combinations of potential mount hardware configurations make that part of the cost a bit fuzzy. The mount holes on my tractor were at a height and distance away from the striper that required quite a few strut brackets and the 1/2" hardware to fasten them together. Because of that, I would imagine my particular mount configuration would tend to be on the expensive side. Cost-wise, ~$200 does still seem a bit pricey for a DIY build, but it is roughly $100 cheaper than the commercial solution.

5. Assemble the Golden Striper:

FWIW, I call this the "Golden Striper" due to the gold-colored galvanizing coating on the strut channel and brackets. :)

Tools Required:

  • Hacksaw to cut strut channel and 5/8" axle
  • File/sandpaper to clean up burrs on cut metal edges
  • PVC cutter/saw for 1/2" PVC spacers (I have a BrassCraft T438)
  • Drill and 5/8" step drill bit (I have this Neiko 10193A set) to enlarge 1/2" strut bracket holes to 5/8"
  • Hex keys: 4mm and 1/8" hex keys to fasten set screw collars
  • (2) 3/4" sockets/wrenches to assemble 1/2" strut hardware
  • (2) 9/16" sockets/wrenches to assmeble 3/8" hardware connecting strut channel pieces together
  • Optional: WD-40. Each piece of the strut channel and brackets had hard to remove UPC decals. WD-40 does a great job of removing them and any adhesive residue left behind.

-Cut PVC Axle Spacers:

I used three different size spacers in my 9 roller/30" striper configuration:

  • (4) 1 1/2” spacers between wobble rollers
  • (8) 5/8” spacers next to 90 Degree Angle strut brackets
  • (2) 1/2" spacers next to each of the outside wobble rollers

Please note that each additional wobble roller added will require a corresponding 1 1/2" spacer (9 rollers requires 4 spacers, 10 require 5 spacers, 11 require 12 spacers, etc.).

-Enlarge a 1/2" hole in four 90 Degree Angle Strut Bracket brackets to accommodate 5/8" axle size:

Use a drill and the 5/8" step on the step drill bit to enlarge the 1/2" hole closest to the end of the longer (4”) arm on four of the 90 Degree Angle Strut Brackets. Once completed, the 5/8" axle should fit through this hole and rotate cleanly on all four brackets.

-Build the Axle:

I recommend a test build of the 5/8" axle before cutting it to size.

This is what the parts placement for my 9 roller/30" striper configuration looked like:

R = Yates 530R-5P wobble roller (9x)
W = 5/8 cut washer (28x)
B = 3.5” x 4” 90 Degree Angle strut brackets (4X)
1.5 = 1 1/2” PVC spacer (4X)
5/8 = 5/8” PVC spacer (8X)
1/2 = 1/2" PVC spacer (2X)
C = 5/8” collar (2X)

C,W,1/2,W,R,W,5/8,W,B,W,5/8,W,R,W,1.5,W,R,W,5/8,W,B,W,5/8,W,R,W, 1.5,W,R,W,1.5,W,R,W,5/8,W,B,W,5/8,W,R,W,1.5,W,R,W,5/8,W,B,W,5/8, W,R,W,1/2,W,C

5/8" PVC Spacer Next to a Strut Bracket:

1 1/2" PVC Spacer in Between Wobble Rollers:

When you are comfortable with your axle layout, cut the axle to size with the hacksaw and cleanup burrs with a file and/or sandpaper. As mentioned earlier, I cut my axle to 31 7/16” for a 9 roller/30" striper.

-Cut the Strut Channel to Size:

Assuming you have an assembled axle at this point, I would put the built axle next to the strut channel to verify that the estimated length from step #3 above still makes sense. When you've decided on the appropriate strut channel length, use the hacksaw and cut two pieces to the same length (centered between two of adjacent slots) and cleanup burrs with a file and/or sandpaper. As mentioned earlier, I cut my strut channel to 28” for a 9 roller/30" striper.

When the strut channel is cut to size, assemble the two pieces back-to-back with the four sets of 3/8" x 3/4" bolts, flat washers, lock washers, and lock nuts. For maximum adjustability, I fastened them on the two outermost and two innermost slots of the strut channel since they act as stops for the strut channel nuts we will be installing later.

-Attach the 90 Degree Angle Strut Brackets to the Strut Channel:

Use eight sets of 1/2" x 1" bolts, flat washers, and strut channel spring nuts to attach the axle strut brackets to the strut channel. To ease assembly and help the strut brackets slide smoothly in the channel, I used a pair of pliers to remove the spring from the spring nuts.

Similarly, use eight sets of 1/2" x 1" bolts, flat washers, and ("despringed") strut channel spring nuts to attach the shorter (3.5") end of the remaining four 90 Degree Angle Strut Brackets to the opposite side of the strut channel as pictured. These brackets are used to attach the striper to your mower and should slide smoothly through the channel so that you can adjust them to fit your particular equipment. FWIW, my roller as pictured below (displaying the range of mount bracket positions) weighs in at 34.6 LB:

-Assemble the Mount Hardware:

To attach the (6) 7.25" 4-Hole Flat Straight Brackets to the striper, I used eight sets of 1/2" x 1" bolts, flat washers, lock washers, and lock nuts for the two strut bracket connections and four sets of 1/2" x 1 1/2" bolts, flat washers, lock washers, and lock nuts for the three strut bracket connections. This hardware added an additional 6 LB of weight to the striper, for a total weight of 40.6 LB.

-Attach the Striper to the Mower:

Finally, I used the 1/2" clevis pins, flat washers, cotter pins, and optional set screw collars to attach the completed striper to my tractor. I had originally bought the set screw collars to use with the Arnold wheel bolts I found at Tractor Supply Co, but I ended up using them as spacers since I had them on hand. The mock up in the picture below uses the 1/2" hole in my tine dethatcher to stand in for the mount hole on my tractor and the 1/2" hole in the piece of cardboard to stand in for the hole in the strut bracket:

The installed mount hardware:

The installed striper (with mount brackets centered on the striper and all bolts tightened):

-Striper Performance:

This varies greatly due to type of grass, mow height, sun angle, etc., but here are some pictures of how this striper has performed for me with some early tests on my cool season lawn:

All in all, I have to say that I enjoyed working on this project and have been pleased with the initial results on my lawn. The $201.81 total cost is nothing to sneeze at, but this is a very solidly built heavy duty piece of equipment that weighs in at nearly 41 LBS. I don't even notice it's on there when mowing, which includes turning, backing up, and going up and down hills with no issues or damage to the grass.

I hope people find this helpful and welcome all comments, questions, and suggestions. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 2017 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on September 11th, 2017:

Asset Aug
Checking 5,632 832 -4,800
Money Market 69,456 69,541 85
Savings Bonds 136,420 136,721 301
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 41,442 41,558 116
Brokerage 153,181 160,442 7,261
401k 156,497 159,792 3,295
Roth IRA 135,335 136,948 1,613
SEP IRA 654,407 661,119 6,712
529 Savings 162,075 164,194 2,119

Total Assets $1,514,445 $1,531,147 $16,702

The S&P 500 has continued to climb since the last update, rising 0.57% during that time:

(chart courtesy of google.com)

On the jobs front, the unemployment rate for August inched up to 4.4%, as "only" 156,000 new jobs created. Oil prices have actually fallen a bit to the $48 level, although gas prices around here spiked about 40¢ per gallon last week due to several Houston-area oil refineries being knocked offline by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial front, my asset levels have reached an all-time high for the TENTH month in a row, breaking the previous high from August 2017. As for money moves, I intend to make an additional 2017 SEP IRA employer contribution later this month after some of my client invoices have been paid.

As for the non-financial, my kids have returned to school and my oldest will start the college application process shortly. One year from now we should see a bit of shrinkage in that 529 Plan balance that's been growing since I started this blog. I've also been working on a small side project to build a lawn striper similar to a commercial one I saw reviewed in a YouTube video. I've been toying with the idea of writing up a detailed build here with the hope that it may help someone else. Hopefully I'll be able to get to that soon. :D