Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

What is claimed is…

Monday, January 23rd, 2012


that I finally submitted the patent application I’ve been working on for the last year and a half.



This was certainly an education. CAD to slicing to 3d printer prototypes to illustrations to word doc to patent legalese. I’m sure that even now some poor patent clerk (Hi, Dan!) is looking at my application in disgust, what with my insistence on writing almost all of it myself. It’s certainly the most-revised document I’ve ever written, though likely not the most expensive, as I am a “small entity” and so pay reduced patent fees. My senior history thesis probably wins the “most expensive paper” award thus far.

Thanks must go to BPM Legal for far more work than I anticipated for my money. Extremely limited thanks to the Patent Office itself for not updating their new published guidelines until at least two months after they legally took effect.

It’s probably not the only patent application with MSPaint-edited figures, but it’s probably one of the few.

Clamps 1

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I think I need more clamps.

L to R: spring clamp, horrible misuse of a freebie adjustable wrench, chemistry lab hose stop clamp, too-big c clamp, hose stop clamp, slightly too-big c clamp, just right c clamp, on-sale-at-the-drugstore “vise grip” that is so bad it merits its own post, spring clamp.  3 proper for 9 used.

(Yes, that surface is curved.  My photography is (generally) not quite bad enough to be that distorted.)  (Nested parens reveal functional programming language experience.)


Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I have sandpaper in my kitchen sink.

While this sounds like an example of why computer language translation isn’t quite perfect yet (as per: My hovercraft is full of eels), it is instead merely a statement of fact.

I’ve gone through a considerable amount of wet/dry sandpaper recently, due to a confluence of several things:

a)  I really hate sanding things

b)  I’ve needed to sand things recently

c)  There seems to be a bit of a renaissance in the use of hand planes to smooth wood.

d)  As a result, there are numerous guides to cleaning up/truing old planes.

Since planes aren’t used much now due to the proliferation of power sanders, there’s zillions of old ones floating around on eBay, at garage sales, and between collectors.  Some are quite beautiful.  I thought I should get a plane.  However, I didn’t want to drop $80 on one, and while I like the work of Bridge City Tools and Sauer and Steiner, I really can’t afford to spend computer money on one of their fine products.  So, as many do, I purchased a cheap Stanley block plane:

As with most hand tools that have been superceded by power tools, there are many different sorts of planes, from itty-bitty little luthier planes for guitar making up to giant jointing planes that are over two feet of iron.

This one is a basic, non-adjustable, $20 plane for trimming end grain (low-angle blade) and other cleanup work.  Being $20, it isn’t as smooth as, say, a $200 Veritas.  The way to improve a cheap/old/corroded plane is to plonk some wet/dry sandpaper onto a really flat surface, wet it, and move the plane over it, using progressively finer grit.  You can then do the blade the same way, as per the Scary Sharp method.  An interesting question arises, though: what do most people own that is really flat?  Flatter than all wood that you’ll use the plane on.  Flatter than sheet metal that might be dinged or heat expanded.  Well, if you have a granite countertop and a tolerance for iron dust on your food preparation surface, you can use that (Hey, Iron has an RDA!).  If you have an iron table saw table, and aren’t worried about it rusting, you can use that.  But most houses have some spare plate glass somewhere, even if you have to pull it out of a picture frame.  Because of the way it’s made, glass is really flat, and has only the minor downside of wanting to cut you if you aren’t careful.  (As an aside, I always hated cutting glass when working at the hardware store.  I always expected it to burst out of the vertical cutting jig.)

Plane sole from the factory

The sole is smoother than it looks because it was milled in the direction of travel, that is, fore and aft, so the little bits of “tear-out” are in line with the usual direction of movement.  Note too the jagged casting inside the slot.  I cleaned this up with a file.

Plane blade - before

It’s hard to take pictures of shiny metal when hoping to show that it becomes shinier later.

So, after some work:

Blade in progress

This is kind of a dirty job.  Iron/steel dust floats all over the place in the water, and behaves more like dark, magnetic dirt than anything else.

sole in progress

One of the interesting things about this is that you can see where the sole was cast high or low.  For example, there’s what looks like milling “snipe” just before the slot, and the top right corner of the sole was cast high.

Several hours and maybe $6 worth of sand paper later, I was willing to call it done.  I should have started with 150 grit, since the sole needed more metal removed than my 200-320-400-600 pattern could do.  I eventually ran out of paper.

Sole - "done"

It’s a lot smoother now.  The high spots are all flattened, and the hollows are much shallower.

Blade - done

The blade is pretty sharp now.  I’m insufficiently hardcore to work my way to 2000 grit on the blade.

This was interesting work; I like jobs where you take something cheap and make it (cheaply!) obviously better.  Progress is easily observed.

Now I need to work on my planing technique.  Fortunately, I think there’s a podcast about it…


Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

This showed up at work a while ago, probably a refugee from the back of somebody’s desk.  We thought it was an old piece of lab equipment.


We weren’t sure what it was, beyond some sort of nibbler.  It looks like the business end of the nibbler has been hardened somehow.  Obviously the “jowl” under the jaw opens (it springs closed).  What you can’t see in the impression it gives, when held in the hand, that it has been used a lot.  The handles are very smooth.  One of my coworkers thought it might have been used to take samples for microscopy or other analysis.  The only clue is on the inside of the handles, which have stamped into them: “McBee Made in U.S.A” and “5227 626” (the last “2” being struck over a “1”).

It turns out that the tool is less immediately useful than one might hope:


It’s designed for marking paper cards as part of the McBee filing card system.  The decks must be long gone.  It’s interesting to me that the technology dates to 1896; people have been thinking about how to order data for a long time.

I wonder how much work went into the collection this tool helped organize.  Perhaps the last user kept it as a memento of long hours sorting information that today would represent another 256kb in a database somewhere.  Information science marches on.

Mini Tool Roll

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

One of the niggling problems that attend my too-small apartment is depicted below:


Those of you who have sheared the heads off of bolts or screws at one time or another may recognize the above pile as being composed of screw/bolt extractors, sometimes called “EZOuts”.  (This last name is, I believe, a specific, trademarked, version of this sort of tool.)  If you break the head off of a bolt or cam out the head on a screw, you drill a hole into the fastener and put one of these extractors in.  They are designed to bite in as you rotate them (and, hopefully) the screw, out.

In any event, having purchased these extractors during a particularly frustrating bout with a clutch of rusted 10 millimeter bolts, I could not figure out where to put them.  The original packaging was inadequate once opened, and I didn’t want to just throw them in the toolbox since a) I would be unlikely to find the smaller, fiddlier extractors easily, and b) they are made of hard, brittle metal that might be damaged by banging about with less, shall we say, “refined” tools such as the “free” set of pliers obtained when opening a bank account.  Due to a lack of available shelf space, the extractors were forever finding their way into my sock drawer.  This situation was intolerable to the degree that I put off worrying about it for at least 6 months.  (Socks are, after all, soft and unlikely to damage the extractors when they roll into the drawer).  However, in my recent efforts to become a bit more organized/presentable/able to find things, I decided that I should find a more permanent solution.

Those of you who have looked at the title to the article know what I decided on, of course.  I like tool rolls, especially leather or canvas ones.  They are compact, easy to carry, and present themselves as delightfully purposeful when you theatrically unroll them and remove a tool from its own, individual, slot in the roll.  (Pride of place here may go to Brendan Fraser’s gun roll in The Mummy, which is frankly and quietly ridiculous).  They also lend themselves to tool compartmentalization, allowing one to bring a few tools along rather than dragging a 30-lb bag or box.  I understand that tool rolls are popular among motorcyclists for these reasons.   One of my most veteran tool storage devices is a tough nylon roll from Duluth Trading that has proven useful for carrying “misc.” tools in the trunk of my car.

These screw extractors are very small however, ranging from 1 1/2″ to 3″ or so, which means that there are few/no correctly sized rolls available, and any normal-sized roll would cost approximately as much as I paid for the extractors.  Obviously, I thought, I should simply make one out of inexpensive cloth from the fabric store.

Problem the first: I am terribly bad at sewing anything resembling a straight line.  Uttering one is, perhaps, another story, but my skill with a needle and thread is minimal at best.  This problem was (hopefully) addressed by the purchase of a $2 tube of fabric glue.

Problem the second: cheap cotton fabric isn’t very strong and tends to fray when cut.  Vaguely remembering some Cub Scout project, I figured I could simply burn the loose threads off.

Fortunately, the low weight of the pile of extractors means that the roll doesn’t need to be very strong.


Space the extractors out across the fabric, and cut the fabric approximately to size.  Burn the loose threads, remembering not to let too much of the edge catch fire at any given time when you move the lighter too closely, repeatedly  (see brownish areas in the below photographs).

Fold over the cut edges into something resembling a straight line, and glue them, to hopefully eliminate most of the fraying.  Note that the glue, if over applied to thin fabric, gives the impression that a slug has oozed along the surface.  Ignore this minor cosmetic problem due to much worse option of having to sew.

roll-edgesPlace largest extractor near left edge of the fabric.  Cut a roughly pennant-shaped piece of cloth, and put one of the long edges parallel with the bottom edge of the fabric.  There should be a flap at the top of the larger piece to fold over the exposed ends of the tools when the assembly is rolled up.  Glue a blind “tunnel” together for the largest extractor, pinching at the bottom to close off the end.  Repeat lots of times.  I eventually started using the next extractor to space the previous two apart, giving a proportionally diminishing spacing that worked pretty well.



Astute viewers of the above picture may note that one of the extractors (5th from right) is damaged.  This is a frequent, unfortunate occurrence.  The problem when this happens is that you are left with a bit of hardened steel embedded in the already-damaged screw.  At this point, you may not even be able to drill the damaged fastener out.  I should throw the damaged extractor out, I suppose.  That I have not done so thus far is due to my irrational feeling that tools grow accustomed to their fellows.

In any case, the roll has held together thus far and has a pleasant weight in the hand.  A strip of rawhide acts as a tie to hold the whole thing together.  It does not possess much visual appeal, particularly since the inexpensive black cloth I used tends to pick up and show dust, but the glue has held up better than I have any right to expect.