28 June 2011

Let there be light

Lemontree said I should machine something fun. So I cut off a piece of brass, drilled a hole across it in the drill press, drilled again through the middle on the lathe, then cut a 45° angle across each end. Then I cut it in half and got two lamps:

The cross-drilled hole is for the wick and oil to get in to the central hole. Tiffany supplied the wicks from her crochet kit.
You're supposed to use olive oil because it doesn't smoke like vegetable oil will. We seemed to be out of olive oil, so a quick Google search revealed that sesame oil works as well. I'm pleased to report The Internet was right, no smoke or even soot on the back of a spoon placed over the flame. The lamps do produce a faint odor of sesame, though, which is pleasant enough... as long as the neighbors don't come to our house looking for the new Mongolian Barbecue.

We just put them on a saucer, but they get kind of hot so we should probably find a little candle jar with a thick bottom to put them in.

Fenced and sharpened

Cutting off rough stock freehand with my angle grinder was a pretty crooked affair, so I splurged $6.50 on an attachment from Harbor Freight. They call it a safety guard, I call it a fence. I was able to cut pieces for the new knurler straighter this time. Still not as nice as a bandsaw, but about $143.50 cheaper. Speaking of cheaper, I spent a whopping $2.28 on the steel (!) for this knurler. With prices like that for the good stuff, why would I ever buy Home Lowes metal again...

I scribed an "A" pair and a "B" pair of arms so they are drilled together (2 at a time, not 4 at a time) for the best possible alignment of holes. I also noticed in the picture that the original author had, after drilling one hole, put a bolt through that hole so subsequent holes would be as aligned as possible... something I'd neglected to do last time and won't forget this time.

Also to improve drilling accuracy, I sharpened my first drill bit today. Wasn't as dramatic as I would have thought, though it did take me three tries to get it looking somewhat like an unused bit. I drilled a test hole and noticed: 1. I didn't have to pull down on the drill press handle nearly as hard as I used to, 2. I got less of a raised lip of smushed metal around the top of the hole, and 3. I actually got a long continuous string of swarf instead of little chunks.

Drill bits have to be sharpened... who'd a thunk?!

I have high hopes for the rest of the build now.

27 June 2011

Cold steel

I decided to remake the knurler with cold rolled steel. Above, you can see the dark scale and rounded edges of the Home Lowes crap steel. What you can't see is that it also varies in thickness several thousandths over the length. Below it is the bright finish cold rolled Gem State steel with nice sharp corners and consistent size within .001". This should make for a smoother and more accurate tool.

Now I need to learn Google Sketchup so I can make my design changes without ending up with a knurler that doesn't work after I've made it...

25 June 2011

Knurler Part II

The pivots still needed holes in them. I could do this on the drill press, but the lathe is more accurate. It does take a while to dial the part in to center though.

There were two parts to tap (create threads in). This is where I discovered that cheap tap & die sets (purchased pretty much anywhere retail) are for cleaning up damaged threads only. Using them to create threads where there were no threads before is merely an exercise in frustration. I destroyed both of my tap handles, utterly destroyed one die, and boogered up one tap by ultimately using Vice Grips on it. Ugh. But I got it done. I will have to buy real "machinists" taps and dies online if I want to do this again.

I also got the hardware (including the spring, did you know Ace sells springs?) and bolted it all together. The result?

Well, it knurls. Unfortunately, because my drill wandered when I drilled the stack of 4 arms all at once, one knurling wheel is slanted so I get an incomplete impression on one side. Bummer. I have to decide now if I want to remake just that arm or do it all from scratch again using real steel and a further modified plan.

24 June 2011

Knurler Part I

Since most flashlights are knurled, one thing I'm going to need is a knurler. Like many machine tools, you can go out and buy one. Or, for about 1/10th the cost in materials, you can make one. If you've read this blog before, you know I generally prefer the cheaper option. And, it's good machining practice.

Normally, parts are cut from rough stock on a bandsaw. I don't have one of those, so out comes the angle grinder with a cutoff wheel.

This is steel flatstock from Home Lowes. The only reason I'm using Home Lowes metal is I already had this from some forgotten project like 8 years ago before I knew how poor quality Home Lowes steel is. There are at least two real metal suppliers here in Boise, like lumberyards only for machinists and welders. One of them was closed without warning the first time I wanted metal, and I never bothered to go back. Gem State Metals is where I go now, and even though most metal suppliers like to deal in $1,000+ orders from real shops, they are so tolerant of individuals buying $50 at a time that the guy actually gave me a tour of the place today. Thumbs up.

Once I have my parts rough cut, I clamped them together and ground the ends so they're all about the same length. Tolerance is not critical here.

Then I begin layout. I'm following some plans that someone posted online. I'm making some minor alterations, however.

The stock surface is coated with a blue dye, then I set my calipers to the dimensions specified in the plan and then use the jaws of the caliper to scratch lines. Places for holes to be drilled are dented with a centerpunch so the drill bit starts on center and doesn't skate around.

This hole has been started with a spotting drill, a short stubby stiff drill that will start a straight hole for the normal drill bit to follow.

The plans said to stack and drill, but I think it was a mistake in my case. The first one was drilled perfectly but the deeper I went, the more my drill bit wandered -- my drill press vise isn't the best and my drill table flexes a little. The locations of the holes were not critical, however, so everything should still work ok.

This part was fun. The plans call for half-rounds in the edges of the pieces, so I just clamped them side-by-side and drilled one hole in the middle where they met. Each piece got half a hole.

Swarf mountain.

Then I deviated from the plans. I don't like how many bolts are holding the thing together. There are 2 extra bolts top and bottom that I assume the author added to stiffen the assembly. My scrap steel is already thicker and wider than the plans, so needs less stiffening. Still, just to be safe, I decided to give ears to the upper and lower pivot points to keep the arms from bowing out under pressure.

Here's one ear ready for a trial fit...

Yep, fits nice. A close fit so there is no slop but not so tight it binds.
Finished pivot point.

I used 12L14 "leaded" steel for these pivot points. Man, that stuff cuts so nice and easy. No drama. It costs a little more than regular mild steel, but the extra money is worth it for a newbie. If you're curious, here are some of the prices I've paid for metal. These are all per inch of 1/2" round stock:

6061-T6 aluminum: $0.08 (mild steel is about the same)
12L14 Steel: $0.12
303 Stainless Steel: $0.33
Tool steel: $0.36
416 Stainless Steel: $0.50
C360 Brass: $0.67 (spendy!!)

Of course, the price goes up with diameter. The 3" aluminum I made the Jetta alternator pulley with is $3/inch! So as you can imagine, 3 feet of metal stock (depending on the metal and the diameter) probably costs more than 8 board feet of nice lumber for woodworking. I still think metalworking is way cooler though. ;)

Here you can see how the arms fit into the grooves, with the ears securing the sides of the arms.

This is as far as I got as it got late and I need to buy some bolts from the hardware store. But wait, you say, you have a threadcutting lathe, you can make your own bolts! Well, yes, I can, but hardware store bolts are actually cheaper than the metal stock I'd use to make my own! The whole "economy of scale" thing.

23 June 2011

My 5 minutes of fame

I made a little video and put it on YouTube:


My Macaroni & Cheese Lunch

At times I find myself slipping from what I would consider healthy eating. I know probably everybody has their own idea of what that means, but for me, what I struggle with most is increasing the amount of vegetables that I eat and decreasing extra sugars, extra fats, and animal products, while still eating foods that are appealing to my family. Food is a sensitive subject to most people, and no less around our home. Still- there's this struggle within me to increase vegetables that my family eats, without upsetting the balance too much.

On to lunch today. Katie wanted macaroni and cheese. The obsessed mother that I am decided I can make mac and cheese, and add some vegetables, and we would both be satisfied. I gave a moments thought to what might work in mac and cheese and what I have available. I started by picking some herbs from my herb garden. Spearmint, lemon mint, and oregano. Then crimini mushrooms from the refrigerator. I chopped everything up, putting a pan on the stove with a little canola oil to heat.

I sauteed the mushrooms first, then added the herbs to wilt. The smell of mint cooking is an interesting one. Mint is one of my favorite herbs for a stirfry. The flavor is very different than you might imagine. It is not what one thinks as "minty", it is not gum or toothpaste or mouthwash. Instead, it is a rich herby flavor. It reminds me of middle eastern food.

While that was cooking, I started on the cheese sauce. A little water in the pot, mixed with salt, pepper, and flour, brought to a boil and thickened to a paste. I know this may also seem strange to some of you, but I am opposed to using milk, unless I really need to. Water works just fine.

Next, I added a can of petite diced tomatoes to the pan of herbs and mushrooms and left it to simmer and the flavors to mix.

Back to the sauce, here I am adding cheese to the pasty base. On low heat, added a little at a time the paste transforms into a thick cheesy sauce.

When all the cheese has been added to the sauce and melted thoroughly, it is time to combine the elements.

I put the sauce on low heat and finally started cooking the macaroni. I really like the shells form of whole wheat pasta best, but the grocery store was out of stock, so I bought macaroni this time. I think I like the shells better because they are able to be coated on all sides with the sauce, so they don't have the heavy flavor often associated with whole wheat pasta. Here's the picture of the final product. Appetizing, no? I guess that all depends on who you are.

The final assessment: Three girls come in for lunch. Right away Tiffany tells me how good it looks. I expected that. She's a food lover and hard to disappoint. The other two, however, fall into, I kid you not, howls of how awful this latest food monstrosity is. Not looks, but IS. I dished up bowls for the kids. I gave Tiffany a full bowl, Emily a generous scoop (about half a bowl), and Katie a mere two bites' worth. Yep, I know my kids and how much I'm able to coax them to eat even when they truly don't like something. Tiffany ate her bowlful, as expected, and had seconds, then thirds, raving the whole time. :) Emily continued her protest, I left the table to let mine cool, it was still pretty hot. When I came back, she not only tried it, she finished her bowl, then went back for seconds, and thirds. Yay! it was a hit for her as well. :) :) Well, then we were down to Katie. This kid is stubborn. She tried every dodging tactic. "Can't I eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich instead, mom?" "Or wheat thins?" "or peanut butter and honey on saltines?" I told her if she chose not to eat the (two bites!) macaroni, the only thing she could eat was fruit or vegetables. It took a lot of coaxing. She ate one macaroni and declared it tasted like a skunk smells. I finally suggested she put a little parmasan cheese on top. She did that, and ate her two bites all up, minus the vegetables. I then let her have a peanut butter and honey sandwich.

22 June 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Garage

Looking north...

...and south:

It's amazing. The garage shrunk when I got the Jetta out, and shrunk again when I cleaned the stuff out ot it.

On the upside, it's not a single-car garage any more... it's a two-motorcycle garage. :) During the summer, at least. Winter 2011-2012 will finally be the year I don't have to scrape my car every morning, though I may end up backing the car out during the day to make room for reloading or woodworking.

18 June 2011

Wall upgrade

Possibly the first time "wall" and "upgrade" have been used together?

One thing that I found very, very handy is a whiteboard in the home machine shop. I use it to to jot down Home Lowes shopping lists, measurements, etc. Since I hadn't permanently mounted mine to a wall yet, I would just lay it on the workbench where I was working. Doing that was so handy, I decided not to permanently attach it after all.

I've had this bit of sheet steel in my scrap bin since the engine rebuild. My Harbor Freight piston ring compressor was way too big for wittle VW pistons, so I had to cut this section off to make it work. Now I'm putting it to good use by drilling two holes and gluing it to the back of my whiteboard. I had to glue it because the sticky foam that came with the whiteboard didn't stick to metal.

I used the belt sander to clamp the glue joint until it dried:

The other thing that I use often is a chart that shows drill sizes in Imperial (inches) and Metric (mm) as well as the size of hole you should drill to tap a particular thread. I've gone through several of these because they get dirty and oily and wrinkled and lost. To solve this, I used "clear contact paper" (adhesive plastic laminate) to affix it to some sheet steel from Home Lowes.

The sheet steel came big enough to make two page holders, so using front and back I still have room for 3 more reference charts should I want to add them in the future.

Drilled another hole, put some brass hooks on the wall (I decided to risk hammering them into the drywall, time will tell if that turns out to be a foolish mistake if I have to remount them with proper metal spider drywall anchors), and done:

(Yes, that's a calculator stuck to the magnetic whiteboard with magnets. Also very handy.)

Oh and while I was having fun doing non-Jetta things, I decided to fix our broken lawn chair. I drilled a bunch of shallow holes for the JB Weld to grip. JB Weld seems to be strong enough for many tasks, but it's adhesion, especially on smooth plastic, has often left me wanting. The holes should let JB Weld make little "fingers" to keep the joint from pulling apart. I hope.

Not too pretty, but our lawn chairs are fading to white so I should probably paint them anyway.

And the results are in...

Chalked... looks great so far...

...and clear coated.
It actually looks better in the pic than it does in real life. I think the spray paint blew away some of the chalk, in retrospect I should have used clear paint from a container and just dripped a drop over each number. Still, it worked ok.

17 June 2011

Fortress still not quite done

I'm not a fan of drywall anchors. They never seem to hold (which is why I hung all of the garage shelving from studs). The anchors holding our towel rack in our bathroom failed, as did the ones I attempted to use to fasten my workbench power strip to the wall. The only thing I still trust drywall anchors for are paper towel dispensers, and even then, I used the upgraded metal spider type and not the crummy useless plastic slug type.

For the power strip, which takes a lot of force when unplugging cords, I had Lemontree get me some toggle bolts. I used these to securely mount a scrap of plywood to the wall. Then I was able to use wood screws and zip ties to get the power strip off the workbench, saving precious space:

I also tucked the cords neatly up and away, behind the shelf and 3-zillion-drawer-unit. You may notice that this power strip has those annoying "child safety" covers on the outlets. This is by design -- some time ago, I was turning aluminum on my lathe which makes big long curly strings of swarf. Suddenly, the lights went out and my lathe stopped! Looking around in confusion, I assumed I tripped a breaker somehow. Nope, breaker in the main electrical panel wasn't tripped. Breaker at my power strip wasn't tripped. What the... oh, the GFCI outlet tripped. Reset and it immediately tripped again. I finally isolated the issue to my power strip, and saw that a very long continuous string of aluminum had shorted my metal lathe with the "hot" slot of one of the outlets! The GFCI sure saved me from some fireworks there. I went out and got a strip with safety covers after that.

Anyhoo, one thing lacking on my tool wall was allen keys. I couldn't find anything suitable at Home Lowes* or online, plus with the Jetta (mostly) done I now have time to spend on fun projects like making my own allen key organizer.

* I like to use the term Home Lowes, because when I need to get something from a "Home Center" or hardware store, I don't care if it comes from Home Depot or Lowes -- just whichever is more convenient at the time. I don't care if it comes from Ace, either, but "Ace Home Lowes" is just too long of a name to rattle off.

Like the drill organizer, I just measured each of my allen keys across the points and selected the next drill bit size up (measuring across the flats would of course result in holes too small for the key to fit in). Even still, the larger keys fit perfectly but the smaller keys wouldn't go in the resulting hole. Apparently, when you drill small holes in wood, your holes end up undersize? I guess because the wood grain relaxes and moves as you relieve internal stresses. Anyway, the last few holes were a pain, drilling and redrilling bigger and bigger until things fit.

That done, drilled a snug hole in one end and Gorilla-glued in a pegboard hook:

Unlike my drill bit organizer, I decided to paint this one. Mainly because my hands get black and greasy working on cars, and plain wood would look pretty nasty after a while.

Lemontree bought a letter and number punch set, so I plan to stamp the allen key sizes on the organizer at some point. I don't think they're going to show up black on black painted wood, though, so I'm going to try highlighting them in white by scrubbing chalk over them and then wiping off the excess, then hitting it with a coat of clear spray paint to seal the chalk in. We'll see how that turns out.

After this, I need to make an abrasives section in the garage for all my sandpaper, scrubbing pads, files, brushes, etc. And I still need to organize the woodworking supplies, as well as my "hot work" stuff like propane torches and such. Then maybe I can start machining things in earnest, if no other projects crop up first...

11 June 2011

Fortress becoming Awesomer

I finished up a couple of odds and ends on the Jetta so I can take it to a shop to get an exhaust system installed next week (right now it has none, so the exhaust just comes out the engine compartment. Open pipe turbo sounds neat though! Screams like a jet engine.) That done, I started on the final leg of the Fortress's construction.

I hung some standards, screwing them into studs...

Then attached brackets and snapped wire shelves on. The shelves serve two purposes, and only one of them is to store things:

I've suspended a second shop light from the shelves to provide better light for drilling and reloading. Then, to power the drill press and the new shop light,

It's hard to tell on a cell phone pic, but there are four screws and two zip ties holding the power strip on. I think zip ties are the new duct tape! Anyway, I didn't want this on the work bench, space there is precious because the work surface is so shallow. Underneath is slightly less convenient but works fine.

Look what I can do now!! My baby won't get rained on any more. :)

09 June 2011

Workbench upgrades

I made the workbench height kind of low on purpose, both to accommodate Lemontree and to make it easier to work on tall things sitting on the bench. One drawback to this was the (lack of) height of the grinder, which I use to make and sharpen toolbits for the lathe. I had some scrap plywood left over from making the tool bench, so I sawed a few chunks off and made a grinder riser/storage box:

The box's dimensions were largely dictated by the size of my scrap. It holds a "dressing stick" and a cup of water. The grinding wheel is a mixture of abrasive and an ablative material; after a time, it stops grinding and just rubs on what you're trying to grind. The dressing stick has abrasives of it's own which strip off this glazed layer of ablative and gets you back down to fresh abrasive. The cup of water is to cool the toolbits periodically -- otherwise scorched fingers result. You might ask why I don't wear gloves? Well, you never, ever want to wear gloves when working around any kind of rotating machinery. Gloves might sound like a good idea to keep your fingers from getting scorched or scraped, but in reality you have less control of your toolbit with gloves and worse, the gloves tend to catch between the wheel and the toolrest or guard which grabs you and sucks you in. Ugly.

I also got to use my new drill press for the second time today. Yesterday was the first; I have a little motorcycle lock key that had a big ugly plastic handle. I broke the plastic off and drilled a tiny hole in the metal key shank so I could put it directly on my keychain:

Much better.

My second use of the new drill press was to drill and countersink the strip of steel that I just put across the front lip of the work bench:

I probably can't call this an upgrade, because I had planned to do it all along but it got put on the back burner until the Jetta was done. The strip has three functions: 1) protect the wood edge when humping large, heavy, hard objects like transmissions up onto it; 2) to keep round objects from rolling off the front of the work bench, never to be found again; and 3) to provide a durable surface for pushing or banging on things to put them together or take them apart.

I used a countersink bit so the screw heads sit flush and don't stick up above the metal strip, but unlike a drill bit that makes neat little curly strings of swarf, the countersink makes thousands of tiny sharp needles. Nasty. I used a rare-earth magnet to pull most of them out of my skin. Again, no gloves around rotating machinery, so that's about the best I could do. Hopefully countersinking is not something I have to do often...