Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Questioning the Salvage Balance

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
Balance Fulcrum

Balance Fulcrum

I salvaged a balance that was being discarded down the hall at work.  It still works fine; a balance should work forever, absent gross physical trauma.

I am slightly concerned about the crud that is dusted over the whole thing.  The material looks like dust and corrosion of the underlying metal, but I do wonder what ate the label atop the fulcrum.

3D Laser Scan Attempt 1

Thursday, November 5th, 2009
Attempt the first

Attempt the first

The first attempt at 3d laser scanning.  Verdict: needs work.  And a better laser.  (It always seems to come back to firepower.)  Using a fixed-prism wall laser didn’t work well because one edge of the laser is much brighter, given that it is designed to fire down the length of the wall.  What I need is an laser chalkline, which are a bit more expensive, though not prohibitively so.  And yes, I am happy to live in a time when I can blithely go to the hardware store, and ask for “An adjustable prism laser and a pound of your finest nails, shopkeeper”.

In addition, I probably shouldn’t have tried to laser scan a reflective object.   Some days I am surprised I can see my fingers to count to ten.

* It has been pointed out by a friend of mine that this is in fact my second attempt at this, as he helped me with the first, earlier in the day.  Perhaps I should retitle the article “semi-successful attempt 1”.

16 inch combination square

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

While I have been working on things, you wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at this site.  One project is waiting on parts, one is stalled while I make a design decision,and one is stalled pending me figuring out what is wrong with a circuit.

The desk is coming along but has hit the point where you realize that your careful measurements and plans ran afoul of your ability and materials.  The below tool is one of my proudest acquisitions:


This is a Craftsman 16″ combination square.  It’s a 90″ square, 45″ try angle, 16″ steel ruler, level, and has a scribe tucked into the “grip” below the level.  It is a metalworker’s tool (as indicated by the scribe) that is useful to woodworkers.  For some reason, I consider this to be a very “grownup” tool.  My father has one, and it was never used for measuring by we children.  Wooden freebie rulers from local political campaigns and hardware stores were for the kids.  (I don’t know who the town supervisor is of my hometown, but I’ll forever remember the name of the politician who gave out that ruler, probably 20 years ago.)  In hindsight, dad was probably worried about us damaging the level or losing the ruler.  It is well made, tough, and the ruler, being steel, has square, undented ends, unlike the aforementioned wooden rulers.

In any case, I was happy when I finally purchased one several years ago.  It sits well in the hand, a product of many decades of product evolution.  Amazingly, it is still available for less than $20. I am astonished at the level of precision available for this price.  I am not a machinist; I do not require thousandths of an inch tolerance and do not know if this square provides it (I doubt it).  The level of finish offered in a tool that today costs as much as a pretty good steak would make it suitable for those at the highest point of their profession a few generations ago.  I had a discussion with a friend a while ago, and we realized that possession of an inexpensive modern micrometer, available today for $10 or so, would be worth a small fortune 150 years ago.  (Note: my 1902 Sears catalog does not seem to  have the pages that would contain precision instruments.  More’s the pity.)

I hear the response, “And?  Many new things would have been impressive long ago.”  I suppose, that when I look at this square, I see the history of the tool: wooden blocks, then carefully chosen and put together wood squares, made of hard wood, which you can’t get wet, then brass, rough iron, heavy and subject to temperature variations and tarnish, steel, and finally this aluminum tool.  While I am impressed by currently new technologies, I have a similar well of fascination for the amount of power that can be found in the average suburban basement.  Metallurgy, machining technologies, theoretical science, engineering, and the simple evolution of use all come together in an inexpensive item, available to just about everyone.  Thinking further on it, the ability to measure accurately figures in no small role in these developments, as well.  The more tool power available to the individual, the more development we can have, I think.

There is, however, a temptation posed by this square.  No matter how precisely you measure when woodworking, something will not fit.  The drill bit wanders a little, or is shunted a little aside by a knot, or you put it in at 93 degrees instead of 90.  The wood is sniped a bit at the end.  The jigsaw blade cut just off the perpendicular.  The plane caught on something.  You made all of your measurements from a slightly crooked reference.  Skill and good tool maintenance can help avoid most of these, but error adds up when measuring and fitting.  The owner of Sippican Cottage Furniture explains it better than I could here, but the gist of it is:  use the actual workpiece involved as the reference whenever possible.  Use the same reference for all of the same parts.  That way you only have one step to mess up, instead of chaining errors together.  The precision offered by the combination square made you think you could work  the wood like you could the paper on which you did your design work.

The above comments may or may not be an explanation of the issues I am having with my desk project.

Chain cutter

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

This congenial looking tool is a chain cutter for exhaust pipe.

chain cutter

Basically, you loop it around the exhaust, anchoring the free end on the catch at the top of the handle.  You then tighten the assembly by twisting the grip area, which pulls the end of the chain into the handle.  After it is snug, you then work the handle partway around the exhaust pipe, and tighten again.  You repeat this, rust flakes settling on your forehead (and in your hair, eyes, etc.) until the cut is made and the now loose pipe falls on you.

This is the sort of tool that is purchased about 90 minutes into a project.  You have had time to get the car up on jackstands, find your cardboard “creeper”, get under the car, go back inside to get new batteries for your flashlight, get back under the car, and spend a fruitless 15 minutes trying to wangle a hacksaw blade into the cavity the exhaust pipe runs through.  After tiring of using about 3″ of the hacksaw blade due to lack of room, you get back out from under the car, brush yourself off, work circulation back into your arm, and try to remember why you didn’t get the special tool at the auto store.  Answer: it’s about $40.  This sum, which previously seemed princely for a tool you may use twice in your life (professionals use pneumatic grinders or saws if they can), now seems to be almost beggarly in return for the imagined bliss of an easy job.  You picture yourself diving under the car with your new cutter, spending a few minutes working it back and forth, and emerging with a smile on your face and the length of pipe in hand.

-$40 later, you return to the job and it is easier, even if you don’t work the cutter quite far enough back and forth each time, resulting in an intact strip of metal that was in the gap in the chain next to the handle flange.  Somehow, no matter the project, and no matter how many elegant tools you may have, things invariably come back to either a hammer, a saw, or main force (usually repetitive in nature).  In my case, I fatigued the exhaust pipe off by unbolting the other end, and working the pipe back and forth until the strip of metal gave up.  Rumors that I nearly punctured the underside of my car with a chisel are lies.  I didn’t have one on hand.

The cutter is on my table because I somehow damaged a cutting wheel on it, which will prevent it from working properly in the future, presumably 20 years from now after another unwise automotive “investment”.  With a damaged wheel, the chain will “jump the track” and never cut where you want it to.  Fixing it was a simple exercise with a file, honing down the damaged edges.

gloved hand holding chain cutter

Gloves make many things easier.  Holding a blade under pressure is one of them.