Category Archives: General Info

Nine Years

Nine years ago I set up this domain and started blogging, I still don’t seem to have gotten the hang of it.

With everything going on in our lives and in the world around us, I should have plenty to write about. I have my radio blog, also lacking in regularity, and our store/family blog also suffers from a lack of consistency and regularity.

With my 9th-bloggiversary coming up in about two weeks I thought a little goal setting was in order. I have 54 weeks to work on improving those things I feel I lack in my blogging practices. Regularity & consistency.

Scheduling writing sessions had never worked well in the past but I think that had more to do with my lack of keeping up with datebooks and calendars. In the last year or so this has changed. I am using a calendar organizer daily for tracking a lot of different things. Adding writing goals into this routine shouldn’t be all that difficult.

At the moment I’m a little too scattered to vent any moral or social indignation about whatever is going on at the moment. I have been jotting down miscellaneous potential subjects for posts and scribbling out a paragraph or two every once and a while. Some of these should be useful, at least a little. I guess I should continue jotting and scribbling and see how things turn out.

I know this is anything but a substantive post, but that really wasn’t the purpose for writing today. Sometimes you just gotta do some things for yourself.


Keeping Clean

I had a heck of a time coming up with todays post, life, the universe, and everything conspired against this post coming out at all today.

Todays topic is keeping a work site clean. Today I had the pleasure of cutting into some decking, a 40+ year old walkway that was originally cement over wood. Sadly the steel railing’s base was installed under the cement. Being a light weight cement it compressed and was ground out by the railing post which necessitated a repair.

At the time the repairs were made a section of the cement was cut back significantly and the void was filled with a hard composite, then the whole surface was covered with a coat of matte fiberglass and polyester resin. Since the repair was made, I’m guessing 20+ years ago, the cement has continued to deteriorate due to compression and moisture passing under the composite. The steel railing of course has some serious rust issues.

My task was to remove the rusted areas of the railing foot and weld on a replacement and button that puppy up. I cut into the composite/cement mess with a 4.5″ mineral wheel on my die grinder. The tool works fine for the job,but oy, what a mess of rubble and dust. This is where the clean work site comes in, with so much dust and chipped debris piling up I ended up developing a close relationship with my new 4 gallon Shop-Vac wet/dry vacuum. The area I was working on is only 12″ x 24″ but chipped cement and composits can make a huge mess.

To make clean up a simple affair I would chip out a 4 to 6 square inch area and then clean up repeating the process over and over. I would spend a minute or two each time I cleaned and then get back to chipping the old materials away. I was able to clear the space in relatively short order and at the end, I spent only 5 minutes of actual cleaning. More importantly, my work space though in a public area, did not inconvenience anyone. The dust was kept down buy the frequent stops to tidy the area and the chances of flying debris from kick-back were nearly eliminated. Another safety benefit was the constant removal of rusty materials that presented an additional health and safety hazard.

The point here is that keeping the work space clean and clear of debris is a mater of safety as well making it a lot easier wrap up when you are done.

Thats the end of my High School shop class lecture.

Till next time,

Milling Lumber

Greetings Tool Users,

Anyone out there familiar with milling? For those not familiar with the subject, milling is basically cutting wood down to specific measurements, making boards from logs as it were. This is an over simplification, but it, pardon the pun, cuts to the chase.

The project I am working on now is an all-wood airplane; that means all of the structural components are going to be milled lumber, except for the plywood. All of the materials can be purchased from a supplier pre-milled to specifications, but that would likely triple the cost of the materials, not to mention the freight charges from a shop that is not close by. What’s a craftsman to do? Mill lumber sourced locally, of course.

In most cases lumber here in the U.S. comes in “standard” sizes. These sizes originally were at one time the actual dimensions. A 2″x4″ (two-by-four) was actually two inches by four inches. Now-a-days a 2″x4″ is cut to 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. This can make it tough for a guy working on a project that requires “nominal” or actual dimensions, let’s say something like an aviation project.

I spent much of yesterday out-and-about looking for lumber for my project. As you might guess aviation has its own standards for materials, and wood products are no exception. Adding the term Aviation Grade significantly adds to the cost, too. In an attempt to cut down on some of the costs in buying my aviation grade lumber I am going to end up doing a lot of milling.

This is where milling yourself comes into play. Buying lumber at a slightly larger size and cutting it down to the size needed. Producing a high quality material involves cutting the lumber down to about 1/8 of an inch larger than needed in each dimension with a table saw, then using a plane, or planer, shave off the remaining material one side at a time. This can be time consuming because you are shaving off about 1/32 of an inch with each pass and you need to be careful to plane to the exact dimension you want. There is a lot of measuring, checking, and more measuring as you go. That extra 1/8 inch is going to take two to four passes on each of the four sides, one or two sides at a time depending on the planer you have. Planers can also be very dangerous. They have razor sharp blades spinning at high speeds on heavy steel spindles. Be sure to keep your hands well clear of the openings; these tools can do a lot of damage if you don’t treat them with a great deal of respect. That being said, they are great tools to have around.

In case you haven’t noticed, my aviation projects are going to bleed over into this tool blog on occasion. I have a blog specifically for the aviation stuff, but it makes sense to post about the tools, tooling, repair and techniques here. I will do my best to keep the aviation jargon and chatter over there and focus on the tool stuff here.

Coming up in the next few weeks I will cover a variety of woodworking subjects relating to working with milled lumber and smaller projects. One of the things I will need to do is duplicate a layout several times so it will involve jigging, jig building, and some other duplication tricks.

Until then,


When you are a builder/fixer one of the difficulties of apartment living, or living in a small space in general is finding a place for a workshop. In my case, I have semi-public spaces I can work in, I just can’t leave anything lying out overnight to dry or set. I do have an actual shop space though. It’s about 7.5′ x 8.5′ but how much can you really do with a 65 square foot workshop?

The WorkshopFor all intents and purposes the shop is laid out as follows. The door is in the middle of one of the short sides. From the door, the bench is to the left, it is 8 feet long and 24 inches deep. Under the bench on the left side, closest to the door, is a small compressor, a 5 gallon waste bucket, a 5 gallon dirty rag bucket, a shop stool, and a bench-top drill press. Under the bench on the right side are large tools, mostly bench-top stuff. On top of the bench are 4 small-parts organizers and a 12 drawer tool chest. At the end of the bench is a 6 inch space between the bench and the back wall for storing small materials. There is a 4 foot wide center isle that runs the length of the space. A ladder and a rolling cart are up against the back wall. To the right of the door are two 6 foot tall storage shelves that are 3 feet wide and 18 inches deep each. On the shelve are tools, consumables, supplies, and shop miscellanea, all stowed and containerized. At the far end of the shelves is a rolling tool chest.

The space fills up rather quickly when you have a small shop. For my work needs, the space I have is adequate. For tool repair and small craft, electronic, jewelry, and other hobby projects the space works reasonably well. One of the things I am working on is putting in some ventilation. This is a must for any workshop that you will be sitting down and actually working on stuff. A small shop will heat up really fast without proper air flow, of course there is the removal of hazardous vapors and gases to consider as well. Soldering, working with adhesives, paints, or any other items in a long list of potentially dangerous substances necessitates good ventilation, and not just adequate ventilation.

A major consideration for my shop remodel this year was the new project I have been planning. A project like this normally requires more space, but by building the small sub-assemblies first and storing them until needed in the final assembly, I can complete a large project in a small workshop. The key is to be able to schedule your work around the available space. At least this all works in theory, putting it into practice is always the real test. In the past I have been able to complete a number of large projects with limited space, but this one is going to stretch my scheduling abilities to the max.

What’s the project? Building an airplane. Building an airplane is one of those projects a builder thinks about for a long time before jumping in and actually do it. A lot goes into a project like this. There are a lot of parts I can manufacture and small sub-assemblies that I can build before needing more space. I am prepared to build 80% of the airplane with the space available right now, and I do have some less-than-optimum fall backs in case I am not able to swing a larger space when the time comes. I wouldn’t start a project like this without having things planned out throughly including back-up plans. There has to be some flexibility built into the schedule of any large project. Regular re-evaluation of plans and back-up plans is also a really good idea.

The reason I bring this up is to remind you that you can take on big projects with a small workshop. I know boat builders who use a 10′ x 10′ Tuff-Shed in the back yard for tools and small materials, putting large lumber under a tarp while they build their boat. I’m not talking about a four-man row boat here ether. I know one guy who built a 32 foot sail boat that he had to lift over his house with a crane to get it onto the trailer when he was done. He sold the house and sailed his home-built boat around the world… twice.

Sure, that’s an extreme case, but with careful, detailed planing you can build motorcycles, cars, boats, airplanes, or just about anything you want in a small workshop. All you have to do is put your mind to it, and let your dreams take flight.

My kingdom for parts bins!

I have discovered something interesting. It seems that when you remodel a workshop to make it cleaner and more organized, you will spend the better part of the rest of your life trying to get things back in order. No matter how much forethought I put into this remodel, I never realized how much crap I have saved up over the last 25 years of doing workshop “stuff”, in particular all of the accumulation of the last 15 years in the same place.

Tool boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day since the 80s have made their way to the surface over the last few weeks. I thought to myself “It’s a small space; it all fit in here before.” Apparently I had discovered how to fold time and space without knowing it. Things are not all bad, though. I have had the opportunity to go through miscellaneous containers from the deep recesses of my workshop and break the hermetic seals that bound their contents in a state of limbo for a decade and a half. Airing things out, taking a look in good lighting, taking time to evaluate if I am going to use something in the next six months, year, decade, never again because the part is obsolete due to no longer used the communications equipment it worked with nearly two decades ago…stuff like that. You know, cleaning house. Buckets of nails, not rusted into a red-brown pile, yet tetanus-laden enough to justify removing them from circulation. A single screw taking up a full drawer or box space, is it really worth the space it takes up? Most likely not.

Remarkably, I seem to be nearing the seventy-five percent benchmark for completion of this little adventure. With any luck, I will be back to the point I can start talking tools again before the weeks-end. Photos will hopefully become a regular addition to the site starting with the next post. Who knows, subtle suggestion of future plans we may even get some video posted to the site in the not-to-distant future. I have been wanting to get articles posted on the site more frequently in general but time has been short, and getting anything posted has been a little like squeezing blood from the stone that is my schedule.

cobblers anvilBefore I sign off for the day, I wanted to mention a tool that once again was unearthed from the depths of time and space that is my currently-disheveled workshop. My great-great-grandfathers cobblers anvil. The photo here on this page is not mine, I copied and cleaned up a photo I found here. I will post pics of my own cobblers anvil in another article. I just wanted to share a little about one of those tools from the past, something that makes me think about my predecessors. My great-grandfather and my grandmother both wore shoes made on the same anvil; shoes made by their parents. Some times I just get lost in time thinking about their daily lives and how much they depended on their tools. At times I am envious.

Until next time my fellow tool lovers,

Tool Quality

Everyone assesses the quality of tools, or anything really, based on a set of criteria only they know. My idea of quality might be very different from yours. With this in mind, I will do my best to say what it is in particular I am commenting on and why when I comment on quality. Hopefully this will give you a little more to go on when reading my posts.

To get started I thought it would be a good idea to give you some general notes about my perceptions of quality. As an example, there are several motivators that the average tool user will fall back on when buying new tools:

Brand is probably the most common. Brands hold a certain status with each tool user. Some for outstanding performance and longevity, some for cost vs. durability, some for status within groups of fellow tool users, and some just for the up-front cost. No matter how you slice it or where you sit, brand plays a part in our purchasing decisions.

Apperance has a lot more to do with the average buyers decision making process than most of us care to admit. I have to confess to this my self, there have been times when I purchased a tool because it looked similar to a higher quality brand or it just looked cool. The manufacturers know this all too well, thats why top end manufacturers go to great lengths to make there tools distinctive, and the advertising can get really fancy, not to mention the claims “So precise, NASA scientists use it.”

Reputation is very important to manufacturers. Manufacturers are always striving to get there product up to the next level and to be considered “the best” available. This can often work to the buyers advantage if your not a “professional” tool user because mid-level tools intended for the pro market can be had at lower prices than top end ones and still provide great durability. They wont be the cheapest tools in the crib but they will last a long time.

Personal Experience is a strong motivator. This is where brand loyalty comes from, and on the flip side, where negative experiences can prevent a buyer from purchasing a tool because of that experience. As a long time user of tools from the pro end all the way down to the one-time use end of the scale, I have found that tool companies have gone through a lot of changes over the last 15 years. Brands that once held high honors have been relying on reputation to get them through slumps in product quality, and other brands that farm out production have made several changes in suppliers over the years making it very possible that a tool from a particular brand that was very good 10 years ago is now being produced by some one else. The same is true in reverse for tools that you may not have liked 10 years ago.

Recommendations can be tricky in part because they are coming from some one with their own biases. For a recommendation to be useful, you have to know something about the person making it and how they evaluate tools. Sometimes, even generally held opinions, can be based on subjective information passed along by someone with media clout, or some one caught with there hand in the cookie jar so to speak, can sour the market for no legitimate reason.

There are some other things that should be involved in the decisioning process more often, and that tie together in a number of ways:

Materials that are used in manufacturing. How sturdy is the tool? Is it ergonomic to use? Does the manufacturer use materials that require hazardous processes to make parts? Will those materials be available in the future?

Duty Cycles can cover several things. First is the operating duty cycle, how long the tool can run or be used continuously and how long it needs to not be operated before using it again. Second is cycle related maintenance. Some tools say that they must be serviced after a certain number of hours. Both of these are important because they tell you to some extent how productive you can be with the tool and how much it will cost you to use it over its lifetime.

Repairability is a big one for me. I prefer to own tools that can be repaired and reconditioned. A good tool, in my opinion, is one that can last generations. This is a view that has declined over the last 20 years with the advent of inexpensive cordless tools. I like cordless tools, but batteries cost a small mint and can make a tool worthless if the battery needs to be replaced and that model has been discontinued. Fortunately manufacturers seem to be reversing this trend slowly. Another concern is with really inexpensive tools like cordless drill/drivers. Having worked at factory service centers I can tell you, they don’t repair $10 tools, or $30 tools for that matter. They replace them with new ones. A diagnostic inspection takes at least 15 minutes to be thorough, in wages and overhead that pretty much exceeds the wholesale cost of the tool. Even a tool that costs over $50 it can be a close call.

As an example, I remember a drill/driver that was brought in for repair by a customer who wanted to do the repair them self. They disassembled the tool, fixed the problem, cleaned everything up and got distracted with other things. Unfortunately before they got back to the tool they somehow lost most of the screws to reassemble the tool. After a quick inventory of the parts they had, it looked like they needed 20 something screws and nothing else. The parts alone cost about $14. The retail cost of the tool was $9.99. He bought a new drill/driver. I consoled him by reminding him that now he had an extra battery, charger, and spare parts as long as he didn’t lose any screws. After he had gone I was out front of the shop and found the old tool in the trash can, minus the battery and charger.

Availability includes parts and consumables. Even if you find a great sander that lasts forever, if it requires a special sand paper to work properly, you better hope that design isn’t discontinued and you might want to stock up on that sand paper anyway just in case. This includes batteries, bits, blades, and anything else that can be considered a consumable. Parts can also become an issue. All tools have what are called wear parts, these parts are the ones that are exposed to conditions that make them wear out more quickly than other parts, often designed to extend the overall life of the tool by absorbing forces that would otherwise damage more expensive parts. Plastic gears are often sacrificed to save an electric motor. Wear parts are usually the parts included in “tune-up” kits, things like o-rings, seals, diaphragms, plastic gears, and more. Availability is something that comes with brand names, that is part of what you are paying for in that extra cost, the ability to use the tool longer.

What all of this comes down to is set of adages:
~You get what you pay for.
~Take care of your tools, and they will take care of you.
~Tools are an investment, make it a wise investment.

Till next time,