27 December 2010

Lathe got legs

When we built the workbench, we set the height to something that Lemontree would be comfortable with, which put the lathe a bit lower than optimal. Actually, I wanted the lathe up on legs anyway, to make cleaning the chips out from underneath it easier, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Since I had finished the wrist pin bushings (even drilled the oil holes, above) and was waiting for parts and supplies to do the next stage on the Jetta, I sawed, sanded, and drilled some 4x4 left over from the workbench to make legs for the lathe. After drilling the small holes for the bolt threads, I transferred the locations to the bottom for bigger holes for the bolt heads.

I used some tape on the big drill bit to gauge the proper depth for the bolt heads. Came out pretty good!

Fortunately I had an extra-long Allen wrench from working on cars.

Looks like Bigfoot...

24 December 2010


I completed one more diameter on my press mandrel -- the shoulder that pushes on the wrist pin bushing in the connecting rod:

Here's what the press looks like:

There's a bottle jack on top, the same type you might use to jack up a car, or that Tom Silva uses on This Old House to lift up walls and ceilings and things. As you extend the jack, it pushes down on the column in the middle, which presses on your part. I'm using a small 2-ton jack instead of the 6-ton jack that came with the press -- the 6-ton was a cheap jack that lasted for about two pressing operations.

Here we are, about to start pressing and hope nothing (like the connecting rod!!) breaks. There's always a bit of apprehension when you're applying, literally, tons of force on things.

No drama, fortunately. Here you can see the old bushing is partially pushed out. My mandrel won't push it all the way out, but it doesn't need to. Once I get the old one on started it's way out, that makes room for the new one to push the old one out as it goes in. Here you can see, from top to bottom, the press ram, my mandrel, the new bushing, the connecting rod, and the old bushing peeking out the bottom:

And there we are, one connecting rod re-bushed, three to go. Also, annoyingly, the new bushings don't come with oil holes (as you can see in the old one), so I'll have to drill them too. But that shouldn't be difficult to do on the drill press.

23 December 2010

Christmas came early

So... ran into another problem on the Jetta. Tried to press out the old wrist pin bushings from the connecting rods, using one of my sockets to press on the bushing. No go, one size of socket was too big and the next size too small with no in-between. So, our options were go to a machine shop again, or make a press mandrel of the proper size. Since we didn't want to wait days and pay $$ for a shop and had a perfectly good lathe sitting in the garage, Lemontree gave me special dispensation to turn a press mandrel on it!!

First we needed some metal to machine. The first place we went to was closed, even though it was during their normal business hours. We assumed they were on a holiday break and just failed to hang a sign or change their voicemail greeting (grr). Fortunately, Lemontree noticed an old phone book on the floor of the car, and managed to find another place that sold metal. That place had moved, but they had kindly put a sign up listing their new location (the first place could learn a lesson from these guys!). So it was we finally arrived at Gem State Metals, where I got a 1.5" diameter bar of leaded 12L14 steel, 12" long. 12" was way more than I needed but hey, there was a minimum purchase requirement and I can always find uses for it later. Cost was $7, if you were curious. Here it is standing next to the lathe, as I clean the shipping grease off:

Next I needed to cut a suitable piece from my bar stock, as my 10" lathe really wouldn't be able to do much with 12" of steel. I clamped it in my vice and started cutting with a hacksaw, but ended up with a tired arm and only a shallow slot. Wising up, I grabbed the recip saw, loaded it up with a metal cutting blade, and made better progress. It still took a good 15 minutes to make it through that thing, but at least I was just standing there letting the saw to the work. Here's all the metal "sawdust" I made:

Before I get any further, here is a diagram of a lathe so you know what I'm talking about:

Next I had to mount the workpiece in the lathe chuck (which mounts on the spindle). This wasn't as easy as it sounds, because both ends had been rough-cut so it would wobble around if I seated it solidly back against the chuck jaws. Fortunately, I had watched the entire series of MIT machine shop videos, so I knew what to do -- whack it with a mallet. No, really. I got it straight within .004" of wobble ("runout", in machine-speak) which was not bad for a newbie.

Now I got to make a facing cut to square up one end. I made my first chip and had to stop to take a picture before getting any further.

Then I started making pass after pass to flatten the end, but after many passes my hand got tired and the lathe didn't seem to be cutting any more. Watching the entire machine instead of just the cut as I wound in the cross-slide, I saw the entire carriage was winding itself out under the pressure of the cut! OK newbie, lock that carriage down and try again... yup, now we're cutting metal again!

With one end faced, I flipped it around -- easier this time, as my newly flat end could simply be seated against the chuck jaws without wobble (or at least, no more than the .004" I had when I faced the first end). This was quickly and easily faced, and I moved on to drilling.

My intention was to make two mandrels, a top and a bottom. This piece was going to be the bottom, so it needed a hole for the old bushing to fall inside as it was pressed out. I started the hole with a 1/4" drill, then moved up to a 1/2" (my biggest). Drilling with the 1/2" was scary easy, just the slightest pressure on the tailstock and the bit dug right in. This leaded steel is nice stuff to machine, which is good as it's designed to be easily machined.

Next was to bore out the 1/2" hole to 1.087", but the cheap little Harbor Freight tool bits I was using wouldn't fit in the hole (well, they would, but not in the right position to do any cutting). I didn't expect to be using the lathe this soon, so I haven't gotten all the tooling I needed for it, such as a proper boring bar. Ah well, plan B! I'll use this piece for the top mandrel, and bodge something together for the bottom mandrel later. The top one is the critical one anyway, as it's the one that needs to be perfectly straight and centered. It'll have an extra hole in the middle now, but that's ok.

I needed to turn down a section to fit inside the old bushing. This will center the mandrel and guide it straight. I needed to go down to 0.940", from 1.500", so it took a lot of work. I made even more work for myself by mounting the tool a little crooked in my tool post, so I ended up with a taper instead of a nice sharp shoulder. Ah well, live and learn, re-adjust the tool and take pass after pass to make the shoulder square. Finally, I turned down the guide section to the final diameter and tested the fit with a connecting rod -- eh, a couple thousandths of an inch smaller than I might have liked, but it will do nicely.

As I worked, I even managed to improve my surface finish by adjusting the lathe speed and how fast I cranked the handles. Steel makes a neat "shhh" sound when you cut it right, though the chips are quite hot (yes, I got burned a few times when they landed on skin).

That's it for the day... will do more tomorrow!

22 December 2010

Zen and the art of... tool walls?

One of the impediments to getting the Jetta done was the state of my tools. Oh, they started out organized a few years ago... but as time went on, everything just got thrown into one of two large toolboxes with no regard for... er, with no regard. Thus digging into the bottom of two toolboxes was required to find most things. This was clearly unacceptable for putting a Jetta together in the minimum of time, so one trip to Home Despot and a bit (well, actually, a rather lot) of time later, we have a rough approximation of tool nirvana:

If you noticed the mirror, it's not because I'm vain, honestly -- it's sometimes necessary to see what's going on behind engine blocks or in other nooks and crannies.

I still have stuff in one toolbox, but it's stuff that is only rarely used and it is somewhat organized with lots of little compartments molded in to the plastic lid. I also recycled the tin box one of my socket sets came in -- it now holds crochet hooks. Crochet hooks, it turns out, are handy instruments for, well, hooking on to various automotive bits like seals, boots, and other things and pulling on them. Also for crocheting.

Lemontree also managed to fill 50+ of the little drawers by cleaning out the jars of screws and nails and such.

The garage is still only half done, with a good 7 feet or so of wall to the right of the workbench to be cleared of existing stuff and clad with new shelves, but I think things are well enough organized to proceed with Jetta work for now. At least, until I'm stopped by an incorrect or missing part... which seems to happen with distressing regularity.

21 December 2010

More progress

Got the upper standards hung, brackets slotted in, shelves snapped in place, and storage bins settled. Katie supervised.
Still need to fill the bins though...

18 December 2010

Having an organized workshop ROCKS!

The valve adjustment shims for the Jetta arrived today, so I decided to make a holder/organizer for them. About two dollars worth of PVC, bolts, and nuts and 5 minutes cutting, drilling, and deburring resulted in this:

Now I can browse my shims like a card catalog. :) Man, I don't know how I ever survived in that dingy, dirty, unorganized garage... it's sooo nice having power tools, a place to plug them in, and a clean, open surface to work on all within two steps!

128 drawers

If you thought we were going to have a lot of shelving, you haven't seen our drawers yet! Yep, 128 of them just arrived. These will hold fasteners (bolts/screws/nuts) and electronic components (resistors/capacitors/ICs) and anything else that now gets thrown in a jar and is thus impossible to find and requires making a mess to get to.

16 December 2010

Got more stuff done

Got the rest of the shelves hung. Annoyingly, Home Depot sells 8" shelf brackets but no 8" deep shelves. What's up with that? Thankfully I now have a moderately equipped workbench, so I was able to cut 2" off some 10" shelves without much drama. Actually I'm a bit ashamed I'm even buying premade shelves instead of cutting my own from plywood and painting them, but really, I am very very motivated to get the Jetta done (have I mentioned that before?) and it's faster this way.

As you can see, there are shelves above and shelves below. And that's not all the shelves -- those white wire racks you see are going to be additional shelving above the black shelves. And the side wall to the right? It, too, will eventually hold more shelves. Seriously, we have a lot of stuff, and only some of it will go away once I finish this Jetta.

Speaking of the Jetta, I went to assemble my pistons and connecting rods the other night and discovered the rod bolts I ordered years ago were the wrong size... ugh. So it's back to the dealership for me. :( And I used my fancy new work bench to try to adjust the valves on the cylinder head, only to realize I was lacking a ton of shims in my set and had to order a bunch more online. So now I am waiting on two batches of parts!

Anyway, if you looked closely or clicked the pic, you may have noticed the 5 shelves stacked mere inches apart on the far right. These have a kind of rubber non-slip grid on them so they can be used to hold lathe tooling -- as the lathe is on the right side of the bench, the tools will be in easy reach there. The cost of the tooling will easily exceed the cost of the lathe once I get going with it, and will no doubt fill those shelves and then some. A person can spend just as much time making tools to make things, as he does actually making things. Not only that, this cheap lathe has a lot of warts from the factory so there are a bunch of parts to machine for the lathe before it ever starts making actual products! Indeed, I expect to have just as much fun polishing and accessorizing this little lathe as I will making flashlights -- I already have a list of enhancements to make to it as soon as the Jetta is done.

Lesson Learned

I learned a lesson this week. I need to be absolutely clear with my children. I can't beat around the bush. I need to actually make a decision and stick to it. Pushing something to the back of MY mind does not make it go away.

Here is my anecdotal story:

About a week ago, I had this conversation with Katie:

Katie: Mom, I want to make a club with the girls in my class. For the first meeting, I want to make a Christmas present for my teacher. Will you buy a wreath so we can decorate it?

Me: That sounds like a fun idea. When do you want to do it?

Her: Monday, after school.

Me: Ok. Sounds great. I'll buy a wreath for you and supplies to decorate it.

Her: Thanks, mom!

As Friday, nears, I realize things are getting busy for me, and this idea of Katie's sounds like a hassle. And about the same time, our car wouldn't start, and Corwin declared it unfixable-- so I am also without the use of a car, which complicates things drastically.

Me: So, this meeting you're planning? Things are getting kind of crazy. We may have to cancel it or postpone it until later in the week. Maybe Wednesdayish.

(Of course I'm not being very clear or precise because I just want it to go away)

Her: Ok, mom.

So, after this, I think nothing more of this gathering. That is until this conversation Tuesday night, as I'm putting her to bed:

Katie: Logan says he will walk home from school with me tomorrow-- he's the only boy that said he could come. I invited a few boys along with the girls.

Me (surprised): Wait a minute! Why are people coming over? What's going on?

Her: For my party mom! I told everybody it would be until 5:30 (right in the middle of dinnertime). You said we were going to do it on Wednesday. You were going to buy a wreath. You didn't get one?

Me: No, I haven't had a car, and I didn't know you were still planning it. I'll have to figure out if I can get supplies and stuff. Let me think. I may be able to walk to the dollar store tomorrow and get stuff. I don't know. You may have to cancel it altogether. I'll see what I can do and let you know in the morning.

In the end, I was able to get some supplies, I emailed her classmates' parents to make a formal invitation-- late notice though it was (and I really hate to inform people of stuff at the last minute). A few people showed up, we had a nice gathering and a wreath was simply decorated with pony bead bells and pipe cleaner candy canes.

It was rather stressful for me, but it was good for Katie. She had fun, and I think it is important that she be able to invite other kids over once in a while and actually plan things herself. She really is a good planner and a good people person. It is a blessing to me to see my kids develop their many talents. When I am caught up in my day to day, I don't always take the time to notice what my children are good at, help them strengthen their skill set, or just let them have fun-- and when I take the time, sometimes all three happen at once.

14 December 2010

Made progress!

Shop light installed, power tool shelves, and vice installed. Ready for work on the Jetta now, I think!

11 December 2010


I recently took an interest in machining, particularly to turn aluminum and brass on a metal lathe to make flashlights and other interesting items. Unfortunately, I still have my last project taking up space in the garage, so I've been very very motivated to finish it ASAP so I can start making metal chips (that's a little machinist humor; you see, the chips are what you throw away after removing them from your metal bar stock to form your desired shape).

My "last project" is converting a gasoline '88 VW Jetta to diesel. I had the engine block bored out some time ago, so I took it off the shelf and masked it off for paint:

Once painted the factory Volkswagen diesel color, I attempted to use a homemade tool to install the intermediate shaft bearings (the intermediate shaft drives the oil pump and vacuum booster for the brakes):

See that little star pattern? Yeah, that's where my tool broke into pieces shortly after destroying my $30 bearings. So, with another set of bearings in hand, I dropped off the block at a machine shop. If I had my metal lathe up and running, I could have made a proper tool to do it myself, but I had no room to set up the lathe -- and Lemontree wants the Jetta done before the lathe makes chips -- so it was just easier to wave money in someone else's direction until it got done.

...And that's where I hit another snag. I started working on the cylinder head, but I had to use the kitchen table, which was a right pain for both myself and for the owner of the kitchen table (that's Lemontree, of course). The garage was just too cramped and crowded to work in, so I decided I needed a work bench. The previous owners of our house had installed some homebuilt shelving in the garage, but it was a massive 4 feet by 7 feet so there was no way you could reach the back corner. Also, it was under-engineered and the shelves sagged in the middle (especially the one that got water spilled on it... oops). Driven to get the Jetta done, we started ripping out those useless shelves to make room for a work bench. We were in such a hurry we didn't even take any "before" pics, sorry. But here's what it looked like after we removed them and started hanging vertical rails for improved shelving and a horizontal beam to support the back of the work bench.

We used some serious lag screws that claimed they didn't require pre-drilling. Well, maybe if you have a bigger drill than I did, which literally smoked before fully seating them. So, we started predrilling and drove them flush with the ratchet I use for working on cars.

Where the previous owners under-engineered, I over-engineered. The dark bar you see underneath the work surface is just that -- a 1" steel bar. There's a second one just behind it, too. I can sit and bounce all my weight on the front lip of the work bench and it is rigid. I can literally drop an engine on there.

You may be wondering why that left leg is not at the corner. Well, there will be another leg at the corner, and between those two legs will be shelves for power tools.

Here we've hung a few of the new height-adjustable shelves and Tiffany and I are testing out the location of the bench grinder (for sharpening lathe tool bits) and, of course, the lathe itself. B-)

The lathe, if you are interested, is a 7x10 mini-lathe. The '7' means it can theoretically spin a metal bar 7" in diameter, but in reality, it would struggle with much more than 4" (still much larger than any flashlight I intend to machine). The '10' is the length of the bed, or how long of a bar you can work with. 10" is also a little optimistic; while it can indeed turn a 10" bar, in the factory configuration various things get in the way so a little modification is required to take full advantage of the bed length. Despite these shortcomings, it is incredibly cheap, er, inexpensive compared to a "real" lathe, and you already know I'm cheap, er, frugal, so there you are.

Now, since we'll be doing all sorts of dirty/greasy/oily/messy jobs on this workbench, we decided to slap a coat of paint down. I don't really care if the surface gets messed up, because it's just a sheet of cheap plywood and I designed it to be easily replaceable , but I wanted to be able to at least kind of wipe it off from time to time. At the hardware store, we looked at the colors of oil-based enamel available. One was a dark gray that I thought would be too dark, so we went with the lighter gray labeled "aluminum". Imagine our surprise when we opened the can and discovered that "aluminum" is not a shade of gray but is, in fact, a bright silvery metallic aluminum color! Ah well, splash it on!

So here I am typing this out while the paint dries. Work will resume on Monday! Gotta get the Jetta done!!