Category Archives: Tools

Fall fell, or did it?

What crazy weather we have been having the last month or so. The daily high temps could have been anywhere from 60 to 100! Now it seems the weather is shifting into the more normal fal pattern, and we sure could use it. I believe we are at the bottom of the medium drought cycle and on the recovery side of the long cycle, but who really knows these days. The weather models have been “adjusted” so many times lately I don’t think anyone really has a handle on the changing patterns.

20150920_141131Besides all the weather stuff… I had posted about all of the seasonal movies in our que, promptly after making that post and settling in for some movie time, the TV let some of the magic out. It appears that it was just the internal power transformer but I have been playing hobb trying to get parts, so we ended up getting a new set so I can spend some more time on the repair. Best laid plans I suppose. I will post a follow up on the movie list later as well as a follow up on the TV progress.

BTW: When selecting a new TV, or any consumer electronics for that matter, make sure you buy a real name brand, Sony, Magnavox, Samsung, etc., someone who has a large product line and has been around for a while. Someone with a reputation to be concerned with and a supply chain that requires conformity. If you want to give an off-brand or small-house product a go, make sure you can get service documentation (schematics, diagrams, parts lists, troubleshooting tips) before you buy, and hang on to it. You or your repair person may need it.

Apex Digital is a crap manufacturer and documentation on their products is basically unavailable. Parts are also unavailable unless salvaged off of used boards, and even then are a crap-shoot. Within the same model I have found numerous incompatible parts changes, and no one can get component parts. Very few sources can even get board level replacements.

20151001_105529Moving along, I have been busy with woodworking projects for work. I have been wanting to build an built-in rent-drop for years. We started out with a basket on the wall inside the mail slot then progressed to putting a bookcase/cabinet in front of the slot with a hole cut out of the back and a basket on a shelf. After almost 20 years I finally got to destroy the bookcase/cabinets I hated build this built-in fixture. So far we are very happy with the results.

Along with the day-job stuff we have been working a some other projects that necessitated buying a few tools. Gee darn, I hate buying tools. The first two are a dapping block and a disc punch cutter. These have been on my list of jewelry tools for many years, I just never could justify them. With our current project list there are several items that need these tools. Some are jewelry related and some are for hardware and findings. Another tool I have been coveting for a very long time is a rolling mill. This one was a bit pricy but I found a deal for about a third of the usual cost. We both decided that was the Universe saying it’s time to add this tool to the round up.

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20150922_165018While I was at it I managed to make another tool I have been waiting on for no apparent reason, a jeweler’s fork, or as it is more commonly known, a bench pin. I’m not sure why I waited so long to make one, but here it is.

After getting the tools in place I worked on a few test projects and was reasonably happy with the results. Two copper rings, one with an aircraft rivet, a copper button, and a practice go at a cross-peened leaf which is a component to something as of yet undecided.

I like working copper, particularly recovered/recycled copper. There is so much you can do with it. The leaf and solid ring were made from old copper pipe, the riveted one was made from some salvage electrical wire, and the button was made from some fourth-hand scrap copper sheet.
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While in the groove I also “recovered” some tool steel from some old screwdrivers and annealed them so I can turn them into some jewelry tools before re-hardening and tempering them. Another simple tool build was a pack of sanding sticks.

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The last thing on the list is my continued studies for my Commercial Radio Tech license. I passed on of the three a couple of weeks ago and plan on taking the big one next week. I will follow up with the third, which is for an endorsement, later on in the month.

That’s it for now, until next time,

Acceptable Tech Level

Today was a great day. I got up early to head out to the Saratoga Fire Station to take my Amateure radio Extra class exam. I am happy to report that I can now use the temporary callsign KK6GXG/AE, for those not in Ham radio, that means I passed. Needless to say I was stoked to reach this, the highest level of amateure radio licence. Lots of plans are piling up for radio projects on my desk/bench so there will be reports on those to come, this post however, is not about radio.

Water Grinder & MotorAfter the test the wife and I went to the De Anza College Flea Market. I found something I have been looking for for a long time, a sharpening stone (wet stone) grinding wheel. What I had been looking for was a manual, or hand-crank type that can be easily adapted to a foot-treadle or bow-spring drive. The one that I found was attached to a motor via a reduction pulley-and-belt system, though in honesty I didn’t realize how low the reduction was at first.

My initial reaction was to remove the motor and adapt the wet-grinder to a manual power source right off the bat. After looking up the patent info on the motor and seeing what it was originally intended for a story began to emerge on the origins of this particular assemblage.

The board everything is mounted on does not appear to be that old. The dimensions are modern, making the mounting 2 x 12, at oldest, from the 60s. The mounting hardware is a mix of 50s and contemporary. The casting and markings of the wet-grinder suggest that it was cast in the 1920s to 1930s. The patent date of the motor is from 1926. This particular 1/4 HP motor was designed for washing machines of the 20s and 30s. A newer motor was produced after the war and the model and frame numbers on the data plate suggest that this motor was produced in the 30s.

20140607_191708The story I have come up with is that these parts were cobbled together in their current configuration some time the 70s from parts and used regularly for a significant time as such and eventually shelved in a shed where they had been sitting for at least a decade.
I ended up doing a mechanical teardown tonight. I was planning on getting started with the electrical teardown and testing tomorrow. For the most part this was an inspection teardown. I didn’t do any “repair” although I did fill the water reservoir with a rust remover to begin prepping it, and to see if it still holds fluid. I didn’t detect any leaks and we will see if it develops any overnight.

20140607_191718The plan is to deal with the mechanical and electrical as completely separate restorations. The mechanical is the primary because I can still set it up as a manual wet-grinder and begin using it.
I have a number of sharpening projects that need to get done soon and this would be a big help in speeding things up. Once rust is abated I think a couple of coats of iron oxide primer followed up with a couple of coats of oil-based paint should provide a sufficient level of protection.

Once the mechanicals are all taken care of I will spend some time on the electrical motor. At this time I have no information on the motor other than what’s on the data plate.

20140607_114338So why the title “Acceptable Tech Level”? one of the reasons I wanted a manual grinder was to further the off-grid hand tool goals I have been trying to work with. With this particular configuration I can easily swing it over to manual and with the motor most likely being from the 20s-30s it falls into my era of interest in aircraft and is also from around the same time as several of my inherited and acquired hand tools meaning it fits right in with many of my vintage tools. The important part is that it CAN be used with manual power.

Until next time…

☮ ♥ ✈ & 73,
~FlyBoyJon / KK6GXG

No Industrial Arts, No Industry

I was reading an article from The American Thresherman (December, 1907) Every boy ought to know how to drive a nail and saw a board,  okay, I wasn’t reading the article in the journal, I was reading a copy of it on Lost Art Press’s blog and a few thoughts came up at several levels that I felt compelled to share.

shop classOn the surface, there is the gender point. I firmly believe that this article is very relevant to today’s youth and this absolutely includes girls as well as boys. When I was in Jr. High shop class I don’t recall seeing more than one girl in any shop class, if any at all, and I always thought it was odd. I knew many girls who would have liked, and excelled in the different shop classes. I do recall being informed later, and on more than one occasion, by female friends that they would have taken shop classes but were ether told they couldn’t, or where strongly discouraged to by school staff. I believe unequivocally that girls should be in shop classes of all kinds if they want to be there, and they should be encouraged at an early age to pursue whatever interests them. I may be a cranky old fart, but gender bias in education is just ignorant.

In Jr. High I took a different shop class every semester. Wood Shop, Mechanical Drawing, Plastic and Metal Fabrication, and Wood Shop II, and in High School I took of Auto Shop. I learned a lot from those classes and not just the basics of manipulating tools and materials. They taught me the importance of method and procedure, analytical skills, situational awareness, and of course tool use; by tool use I am not just talking about how to swing a hammer, I am talking about finding the right tool for the job, making the right tool if you don’t have it, and understanding how using the right tool affects outcomes. These are life skills not just shop skills.

Industrial Arts, as it was known before its virtual disappearance from primary public education, was one of those rare PC, aggrandizing terms that was actually well chosen. As school budgets decrease and programs are cut there are outcries of “save the arts,” and there should be, the arts are a very important part of development. Each student benefits from some form of the arts in their own way developmentally. Many studies have been done exclaiming the benefits of art programs; visual arts, musical arts, theatrical arts… but what about Industrial Arts, the same benefits come from taking Industrial Arts classes.

Shop class has often been the butt of jokes and used as a derogatory reference much like jock by the academically adept. Sadly, “Shop Guy” didn’t get the alternative peer respect that jock did, even though historically, and somewhat ironically, jocks often relied on shop classes to keep afloat as far as grades were concerned. Now we are in the Information Age, the Poindexter’s are calling the shots. For the record I was both a shop guy and a psudo-poindexter, I was in chess club, the Domino Club, the D&D club, and an AV guy, I just didn’t have the 4.0 GPA. 

So what happened to Shop Guy/Gal after the programs shut down? In short, they didn’t seem to get much of a chance to learn those skills, or discover that’s what they are good at, or who they are. There is something out there for Shop Guy/Gal, but they will be hard pressed to find it in traditional channels before college and even then it is very limited.

Industrial Education or Career Technical/Technology Education (CTE) as it is known in community college circles, is very limited and focuses mostly on nursing and cosmetology with few resources for other shop-type programs. Most community colleges have only one shop-type program and it is usually tied to a certificate program. Examples would be Automotive Repair, Welding, Machine Tool Operator or CNC Machine Operator, and Aviation Maintenance Technology.  These are, as the department title indicates, Career Technology types of programs so they are not particularly useful for the average person unless they are planning on that specific career path. So in reality these are not shop classes in the primary education sense and that’s what I’m focusing on here.

I can’t think of one local community college that offers anything comparable to the shop classes found in primary education only a few decades ago. This decline of shop classes occurred rapidly beginning in the late 80s with the introduction of personal computers and by the early 2000s shop class was pretty much a goner, technology had overrun Industrial Arts. As shop classes went away other things happened as well. Those kids who relied on shop class for a grade, they didn’t have a resource or outlet anymore and many dropped out. Those entering school after shop class was gone, they never had the opportunity or resource to learn the skills a shop class would have provided, skills that are practical, transferable, and social. Technology took over the job-skills classes and programs and if you weren’t interested in computer science or up to the challenge, there really wasn’t much else for you.

There are no studies that I am aware of that show a direct correlation between the demise of shop class and an increase in crime or dropout rates but I believe there is some connection. Certainly the loss of shop classes is not responsible for all of society’s ills, but like other arts, there are important skills that are being lost to our society as a whole. In just one or two generations those once common basic tool-use skills have declined dramatically. Ask the average teen today how to use a basic hand tool and you get an odd look, ask them how to use a shop tool and, well, they just look puzzled because they have no idea what language you are speaking or what the object is you are pointing at.

At present the DIY and Maker movements are where basic tool-use skills are being acquired. YouTube contributes more to basic tool-use education than all traditional education institutions at all levels combined. While this is great from the perspective of keeping these skills alive, there is little if any feedback on how well those skills are being understood and applied. Without feedback it becomes difficult to develop skills further, errors begin to compound, and at some level the wheel keeps getting re-invented, frequently. Mr. Stumpy the three fingered shop teacher may not have been the most congenial guy in the world, but he did know the importance of the guide bar on a band saw and its proper adjustment, from personal experience no less, and he would most definitely give you feedback.

I am all for keeping music programs, art classes, and theater programs I just think industrial arts, and more importantly the individuals likely to have been in shop class as well as society as a whole have been short changed by the loss of Industrial Arts programs in primary education. If we as a nation want to reclaim some of our manufacturing prowess, restore “Made In USA” to its former status around the world, and improve our import/export ratio, we better start thinking about how the next generation is going to learn  basic tool use and those important underlying lessons shop class can provide.

Yes, education with strong math and science skills is very important for the nation to remain competitive in the world market as a whole, but let’s face it folks, not every kid is suited for a job in science or technology. The system is trying to push every kid down that road with “no child left behind” even if that is not where he/she is best suited. We can’t all be Rhodes Scholars, and that’s fine. It wouldn’t mean much if we all where now would it? Everyone can benefit from shop skills, not everyone has that shop-gene. Some people are good at shop, some aren’t. Some are good at science, some aren’t. Let people be good at what they are good at. Give them the chance to find what they are good at. That’s what High School is supposed to be about, finding something you are good at or at least interested in. If not in High School, then Community College. Industrial Arts needs to reemerge from the darkness in early education for everyone’s benefit. By Industrial Arts I’m talking about basic shop-skills classes, general tool-user classes, not career specific classes, the kind of class that has deeper life lessons.

To those who don’t know me personally, even to some who do, this may come as a shock, but I didn’t take a single math class in High School. The highest level math I had in primary schooling was in Jr. High and in shop class. It was relevant and had a purpose. Over the course of my life I have had to add to my math knowledge as I acquired new skill sets that relied on mathematical operations or concepts I wasn’t familiar with, I had to learn them on my own. Fortunately I have not had issues understanding math in practical applications. In fact, I understand the mathematical relationships in many areas very well. I credit the basics I learned in shop class along with the shop skill of seeking out the right tool for the job. I would not be who I am today without the benefits of having taken shop classes; not just having the tool-user skills, but deep down who I am.

Please forgive a little sappy self-reflection here, but I think this is important, at least it is to me. This post has become something more reflective than I expected.

It is said that we develop our basic personal identity early in our formative years. For me, I can trace a vast majority of who I am today, what is relevant to me as the person I am now, the beliefs I hold, and the major aspects of my character, to three associations outside of my family. First and second were tied closely together, the church I grew up in, and scouting. The third, and I mean this in all honesty was shop class; not the class itself but the deeper level of things I learned in shop. Church and scouts gave me the “moral compass” to guide me. Scouts and shop gave me an ethical, practical, and physical sense of the world and how to approach it, to function in it.

I don’t expect that others will feel as strongly as I do about the importance of Industrial Arts education, but I sincerely hope that if you benefitted from shop class, any shop class, and you have tool-user skills at any level, pass those skills on.

If you are a parent, mentor, or teacher encourage your charges to explore shop-type skills when they show an interest in them.

If by chance, you are involved in curriculum development or program development for primary education or community college education, think about the case for providing basic Industrial Arts programs and help bringing them back to public education. Everyone benefits from basic tool-use skills and more importantly the deeper level of skills that can come from shop class.


Is a blog just a blog?

Sorry about yesterdays disjointed post. I’m really not sure what happened, other than distraction and a somewhat confused general state of mind after spending the day in the shop cleaning up.

This morning I am gonna’ do a little house cleaning here on the blog.

I had set up a blog for Off Grid stuff. If you know me IRL you know I want to live ether next to, or near by a small airport away from “the city.” Hey, I am a small town kind of guy. I also want to be living as self-sufficiently as possible. The Off Grid blog had a few entries that I wanted to keep so I moved them her to FBJ and closed down that blog. If you are interested, they are in the Off Grid category on this site and I will be posting any new stuff here.

It seems like the FBJ site has always been somewhat enigmatic to me. Maybe it’s my OCD that gets in the way of just posting when the mood strikes. I like to have things compartmentalized into there own little categories separate from each other. Having an idea for a post is one thing, I have them all the time, what usually keeps me from posting is where to post it. This gets messy when you have so many interests, and worse when you have a bunch of topic specific blogs. So here we are again, It all comes back to FBJ. I am going to try and post when the ideas strike rather than saying to myself that it should be posted somewhere specific to that interest.

I will continue posting to Lumber Jocks because I am participating in the woodworking community there and that interaction is important to me.

The Vintage Aero Works site and blog are still in the planning stages, but that site will most definitely be reserved for aircraft restoration projects and related topics. it will be my commercial/professional website.

So what will be posted here on FBJ? A little bit of everything. A lot of aviation, some school related posts, woodworking adventures which will mostly be tool and aircraft related along with skill builders and cabinetry work, and any progress in moving off grid and all of its related topics. All of this along with an occasional soapbox post on politics, religion, philosophy, the economy, or anything else that pops up.

One of my goals for this year is to be more engaged with the FBJ site. We shall see how it goes.

Until next time. Peace, Love and Airplanes.

too much going on…

Wow, it has been way too long since I last posted. My sincere apologies to you. School has been keeping me very busy. I started out with five classes and ended up dropping one, as it turns out that was a really good move.

The hitch in my giddy-up? My choices in scheduling. The original plan was to spread things out over the week, one or two classes a day four days a week, this turned out to be a bad idea. I was hoping to leave plenty of time for work, ya… right. With everything spread out, I am always scrambling for something and there is always something due.

Next term I will be trying a new schedule format, all of my classes on one or two days back to back. I would make for one or two crazy days a week, but less transit time and more focus time. Thats the idea anyway.,

While I am on the subject of school, some interesting developments have been brewing. First off, I have been elected as President of the SJCC Philosophy Club. I have gotten a few quizzical looks from people when they find out my major is Aeronautical/Aerospace Engineering and I am hanging around with the philosophy and theology majors. It is rather amusing actually.

Along with my Philosophy Club activities I have been given some interesting opportunities. One in particular will get at least my foot in the door at San Jose State University a full year and a half earlier than expected. There is a really interesting program in the new Global Studies department that is participating with the Soliya project and I have been invited to be one of the students involved. This would mean registering as a SJSU student, which by the was is awesome.

Why is this awesome? Well for one, I have been wanting to join Alpha Eta Roe, an aviation professional fraternal organization and it would make life much easier if I was a student at a chartered school, SJSU. Another reason is that I am planning on transferring to SJSU once I finish my General AA at San Jose City College to pursue my BS and MS in engineering. It just sort of tidies things up a bit.

Another education thing going on is that I am hoping to wrap up that ongoing drama filled AS in Aviation Operations at Mountain State University that I started in 2006. If I can just squeeze one class in per term there while taking one class per term at SJSU and three or four classes at SJCC I can get that one done too. Thats a lot of schooling going on.

This is why it has been a little while since my last post. On an aviation note, I did pick up some new plains at my newly-opened Harbor Freight Tools. It made my tool-geek heart skip a beat when I saw that they were finally opening a store closer than 30 miles away. This one is less than a mile! WOOT!


Things are leveling off in my schedule as I get back into the academic swing, so I expect to be back in the shop this weekend. With even a small bit of luck I will have something to post about on Monday, so stay tuned for next weeks exciting episode.

Until then, blue skies and tailwinds.

Air Tool Dos & Don’ts

Welcome back to Dad’s Workshop! I wanted to cover a couple of related subjects, They are all about pneumatics; air tools and compressors to be specific.

In some people’s minds these amazing tools are mystical magical apparatuses that somehow convert moving air into another form of energy. When it all comes down to it, most air tools function in one of two ways: they are ether a windmill or an over-pressure valve. They’re that simple.

How Air Tools Work

Take an air drill for example: a small cylinder that has maybe five or six slits along the long axis, and the same number of fins set into the slits. That assembly is then slid into another cylinder with very close tolerances between the edge of the fins and the outside cylinder. Air is introduced into the cylinder perpendicular to the fins causing them to rotate the inner cylinder in the direction of airflow. The more air, the faster the inner cylinder spins.

Those mechanically-minded types are already thinking about all kinds of stuff much more advanced than I am going to discuss here, like forward-reverse switching, variable speed valves and so forth. There are more parts in making something like an air dill work, of course; valves, gears, gaskets, seals, o-rings, and the like, but the basics are those concentric cylinders and the fins at the heart of it all.


Because of the close tolerances any debris or binding will cause catastrophic failure. Most of the time the fins are made from fiberglass or something similar, carbon fiber is common too. Even though the materials are strong, the parts are small and thin, they are also spinning very fast. The fins are lightweight and the cylinder is comparatively heavy so the rotation builds up a lot of inertia. If a small sand-sized particle gets into the chamber, pieces of fin can and most likely will impact them and bits will break off, adding more loose material and causing a cascading failure. This can also happen with binding. If a fin hangs on the wall of the chamber for some reason, like gummy oil or a moisture build up, it drags the fin weakening it until it breaks, leading us back into another type of cascading failure.

This might make air tools sound a little too touchy for the average tool user, and they can be. The biggest part of taking care of air tools is in understanding them; how they work and what causes problems. Take the time to read all the paperwork and look closely at the diagrams and parts list. We have already covered several of the potential problems. Air tools that are susceptible to particulate damage usually have a small screen filter to help, but you can do a lot by keeping particulates out of your air hose. Hook up a blower tip and just blow out the hose before attaching it to a tool; that will go a long way in preserving your air tools right there.

Air Pressure and Air Tools

Another tip for keeping your air tools in good shape is to pay attention to the manufacturers pressure specifications. If the specs give you a pressure range, say 30 psi to 70 psi, stay in that range. If you are dialing in your pressure for a nail gun, start on the low end. The pusher should drive the nail just below the surface for finish nails or flush to the surface for head nails. If you are using another kind of tool start in the mid range, say 45 or 50 psi in that 30-70 range. If you need more oomph, kick it up a little. If it can be dialed down, then dial it down a little. Never exceed the maximum pressure specified! This will only degrade the tools performance and will likely damage something the key here is RTFM.

Air Tool Oil

O-rings and seals in air tools are at very close tolerances. Too much air flow will blow them out causing metal-on-metal stresses that will damage the tool. Some people think that by applying a lot of oil to their air tools they are helping them work better, smoothing things out. In truth, they are damaging them. An over-oiled tool is more likely to blow out seals and rings. An over oiled tool builds up more pressure than it should and may unseat seals and rings causing them to dislodge. Either way it is not good for the tool. Here is another RTFM moment. If the manufacturer says two drops of oil in the air inlet after 4 hours of work, they mean TWO drops after FOUR HOURS. Not a squirt, or “I’ll get it later.” This is very important.

The problem arises for most people when they don’t understand what that means. In a consumer-grade tool, follow the directions and don’t use the tool in a construction environment. In a construction-grade tool used in a consumer environment you need to pay a little more attention. A roofing nailer that says “four drops of oil at the beginning of the day” means a full day of continuous use like a roofer would. If you are roofing a dog-house, dial it back a bit. If in doubt, many manufacturers have customer support lines, give them a call and tell the service department you have a question about oiling, make sure to tell them how much you are actually using the tool. They should be able to help.

Most air tools that need oil come with a small squeeze-bottle of air tool oil. Read the manual for specifics about what oils are safe in that particular tool. If not specified, a generic air tool oil can be used. Only use oil specifically designated for use in air tools. A little side note: That tiny bottle of oil, if used properly, it will usually last a lot longer than you might think. Again RTFM.


This brings me to automatic oilers. For the average consumer tool user they are a waste of money. They are designed for shop use at a work station, one tool, same air pressure, all day. If you change tools or change the pressure you need to re-calibrate the oiler. Another consideration is that not all tools use the same oil. Most do, but the few that don’t, really don’t. It really is more of a pain than just putting in a drop of oil before stowing the tool. Another consideration often forgotten is that oilers put oil into your air line as well, and some tools don’t need, or can’t have, oil run through them. Clean dry air is all you want in your air lines and in your compressor tank. Oily air attracts particulates that build up. Eventually a clump of oily crud may find its way into your air tool, and for some reason it’s always the new expensive tool you just got that gets hit with the crud-clump. Save yourself the headache and the money.

Tank Rot

Which brings me to Tank Rot. Compressors are susceptible to tank rot in part because they are rarely kept in environmentally-controlled places. This means that the temperature will range widely, especially when the compressor has been in use. The wide temperature fluctuations tend to cause condensation in the tank which leads to rust, commonly referred to as tank rot. A good water separator on you main tank outlet will spare your lines, hoses, and tools, but it can’t help the tank itself. You shouldn’t put oil in the tank to prevent rust because it will end up in the air, then the lines, hoses and tools. Oil can get past some of the water separators and will clog others, so you are better off not doing that.

I have seen some success from people who removed everything from the tank and poured some oil-based paint inside and rolled the tank around slowly for a couple of hours making sure that the entire tank interior was covered then draining off the excess. This is a difficult process though. It requires an acid cleaning in the tank, thorough rinsing and drying at least cycle. I have seen it need two or three cycles of prep work before the tank was ready for paint. This all needs to be done on a new tank, it really doesn’t work well on old tanks. All in all I don’t think it is worth the trouble. The bad part is that you have introduced potential particulates and cracks in the paint become moisture reservoirs and end up accelerating tank rot not stopping it.

The best way to combat tank rot is to discharge all of the lines and the tank at the end of the day through the bottom valve and leave the valve open until you are ready to use the compressor again. If you think it will be a long time before it will be used, a rubber band or string and a piece of cotton cloth tied over the opening will allow air and moisture through but not critters. When the air in the tank is able to contract and expand with the outside air it is less likely to have condensation.

Wrap Up

So the basics are:

  • Look at the diagram or breakdown that came with the tool and see how it works and what the failing points are likely to be so you can prevent them.
  • Only clean dry air should go from the tank to the tool.
  • Use only the specified pressure range.
  • Use only air tool oil and use it the specified quantities.
  • Discharge the entire air system when not in use

See you next time,


Clean Tools are Happy Tools

I have several topics I want to cover in September, but I did want to get a quick post in about cleaning tools before the end of the month.

I have been down in the shop several times over the last week, but that time has been devoted to getting stuff back in order after remodeling my shop space. As I am going through all of the stuff (I say stuff but what I really mean in many cases is crap) that was filling my workshop, I am finding that I have been holding on to things I know I don’t need. One such category is Telco materials. Yes, I also worked for Pacific Bell for a while as a repair tech. I have accumulated lots of miscellaneous connectors and even some communications tools that I will most likely never use again, not that I’ll get rid of the tools.

While reminiscing over this accumulation I discovered something else… I have been neglecting some of my tools! I felt so guilty about it that I had to stop, clean them and make sure they were is good working order. Many of the communications and networking tools like toners, amplifiers, and meters just needed fresh batteries, but some tools like screw clamps needed a full cleaning; digging out debris from the threads and a good scrubbing with some Scotch Brite. A few things needed a full tear-down so I could clean them properly.

One tool that needed the full treatment was an old Black & Decker 7″ circular saw I inherited from my great uncle when he passed away in 1989. I figure he bought it around 1979 or thereabouts, so this saw has been in service for 30+ years. This tool, like any other, deserves my respect and attention. It was an in expensive saw back in the day but that doesn’t change the fact that it still does its job without complaint.

My tear-down consisted of removing the blade of course, the guard and and clamping rings. This is when I cringed; there was a thick build-up of debris and oil behind the guard. I am embarrass to say it, but I don’t think I have removed that blade in 5 years, maybe more. I cleaned off the mess and wiped the area clean. The disassembly continued by separating the housing and inspecting the inside of the body and handle. Here is where I was pleasantly surprised. It was mostly clean in here, a little compressed air and a wipe-down and all was well. The commutator and brushes looked good, as did the wiring and switch.

The gear section was opened to check the gear case grease which was also in good condition. I was about to bolt everything back together when I noticed a nick in the power cord. Not really bad, no copper showing, but I could see the white shielding of the neutral wire in the two conductor cable. I don’t have any extra power cord or plug ends on hand, and the damage wasn’t at the point that it would be a structural hazard so I decided to heat shrink that section of the cord. I disconnected it from the switch, slipped on some heat shrink and got it nice and snug, then reconnected everything.

After getting the saw back together and buttoned up I gave it a short test drive on some 1/4″ ply. She sounded happy to have had some time at Dad’s Tool Spa.

More shop and tool cleaning on my schedule for September.

Till next time,

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,