Saturday, October 6, 2018

Tin Can Alley

This is this months DYI project
    I lived in New Mexico for a while.  While there, I was asked to make all the lighting fixtures and bathroom decorations for a hotel in Santa Fe.  There were two problems with this.  The first problem was, and probably still is, that I am incapable of saying no.  I wish you could hear me sigh.  The second problem was that the owner wanted everything made from punched tin.  Hadn't ever worked with tinplate but that wasn't going to stop me.  I did the job and it turned out well, but I'm not sure I really want to do that full time again. 

     Anyway, as we roll into fall, I figured it was once again time for me to give you some DIY projects to keep you from going broke during the holiday season.  And, as usual, I am going to try to make this work with tools that you already have plus some stuff from your junk drawer.  That's that drawer that I know you have full of all the bits of debris that you don't know what else to do with.  You will need a knife you are willing to destroy for the sake of the satisfaction you will get from not spending all your money.  

     I spend my days living with a pretty good possibility of burns.  I know, however, that you don't have an oxy/acetylene torch in your junk drawer so this will all be done cold.  I'm just going to ask that you don't cut yourself.  That's the primary danger with this project.  I once cut the tip of my thumb off preparing a pear for my daughter.  Using a knife comes with no guarantees. 
     The other significant, or actually more significant, event from my time in New Mexico is also relevant here.  My neighbor in Santa Fe burned her house down with a candle.  She didn't have a candle holder and she left a lit candle without one sitting on her wooden desk when she went to sleep. I never asked, and now I wonder, if there was alcohol involved.  Doesn't really matter.  It was a spectacular fire in the middle of the night.  My favorite part of the story that I haven't actually told you is that in an effort not to wake me while her house burned to the ground, she didn't come over and turn on my outside spigot.  The fire trucks took care of waking me, and everybody else in the neighborhood.  My neighbor managed to rent a house down the drive while her house was being rebuilt and a short timelater she came running up the drive screaming that the hose to the washer broke and the house was full of water.  I knew better than to ask if she had turned off the spigot. 

     Anyway, my point is that you should be careful while doing this project and also with candles.  And washing machines.  

I love the shadows these cast
     Before I tried this, I had never made one of these.  How hard could it be? Right?  It didn't turn out to be too hard, but I am going to give you a couple of tips to help you avoid the mistakes I made.  First is probably that you should wear gloves.   I won't be able to help you with the mistakes you invent. 
     This month's money saving, finger endangering project is tin can candle holders.  These babies are versatile.  You can make spooky ones for Halloween.  You can use them around your cornucopia at Thanksgiving.   The can make your holiday decor very festive and you could probably even make your table at the New Years Day black eyed pea feast really spectacular.  Plus, if you are at a loss for the perfect gift to take to all those holiday parties, you could make and take these.  Of course, next month's project might be a better gift.  I don't know because I haven't thought of what it will be yet, but it could be better.  

     Let's get started.  First you need a tin can.  I know you are thinking an aluminum can would be easier.  It might.  I didn't try one and I'm not sure how you get the top off.  I'm sure there's a way.  Tin can's usually have the top off because that's how you got the contents out.  I just used regular tin cans.  I think one had garbanzo beans and one had olives and I don't remember.  You could use a coffee can or even one of those big bulk food cans.  I just used what I had.  You should also just use what you have.  That's part of what makes this fun.

A weeks worth of cans.  I ended up chucking the little one.  It was too small to make anything good.

Slices in the first can.
     I know a lot of people just punch holes in the can in a pattern and call it finished.  You can do that with a nail or an ice pick which is what I used on the first can.  I had too much faith in myself at the start of this.  First I drew the lines and cut the slices with a kitchen knife.  That went fine.  The last slice is a little tricky because the can has lost most of its integrity, but be careful and it will be fine.  Then I figured I could punch some holes around the edge.  That didn't really work out.  The holes around the bottom worked, but when I tried to punch around the top rim the can collapsed.  I should have seen that coming.  I ended up hunting through the old junk drawer and finding a roll of electrical tape that was just a tiny bit smaller than the diameter of the can.  I jammed it in the can and was able to do some clumsy punches around the rim.  After the slicing and punching, you will need to risk bleeding and stick your hand inside the can to push out the ribbons between the slices.  This is where gloves would be handy.  I don't think there is an easy way to do this.  Move slowly and methodically around the can pushing out.  It will take several rotations to get a good form.  The biggest problem, besides slicing open your fingers, is that when you cut the tinplate with a knife you create a burr.  The burr is more rigid than the rest of the can.  Just like the rim.  You will need to force the burr to your will.  I know you can do this. 

The first can finished.
     Sadly, the next thing I did was ask google how to keep from crushing the can while punching.  I found a person who said to fill the can with water and freeze it.  That works great for the punching.  Ice being ice and doing ice things, it distorts the bottom of the can as it expands.  You will have to flatten the bottom after you get the ice out of it.  
The can with the ice in it.  The bottom of the can pushed out.  Ice is strong stuff. 
     For the last two cans, I filled them with water and froze them.  Then I punched the  top and bottom band first.  The ice pick seemed boring so I found a little Phillips head screw driver in my junk drawer and that made a nice star shaped hole.  I liked that.  I did have a couple of moments of excessive force and got bigger holes than I wanted.  Be careful about that, but basically the ice works for the punching.  I melted out the ice to do the slicing.  I didn't really want the extra resistance.  I like the slanted slices better than the straight vertical slices but either way works.  I don't recommend making the ribbons too narrow because the can will collapse.  I'm going to think about other ways to support the can from the inside.  If I come up with something I will let you know next month.  

This video even made me nervous to watch.  
Don't worry though, I  don't bleed in this one. 

This is a truly terrible video.  Maybe you can see a little of what I'm doing.
Plus I do bleed in this one.  Fun for everyone.  
     The last thing I did was go out and buy candles.  My junk drawer had exactly one tea light candle and one fake battery operated tea light candle with a dead battery.  Useless junk drawer.  

These are my first three candle holders.  You can probably tell why I like the diagonal slashes.  I wonder how they would be without the ribs and how a bigger can would work.  Maybe I will line my fence with them when I move to the country. 
Starting work on the patina
     There were people online who painted the cans.  I can understand wanting to do this but I wouldn't.  The tinplate is shiny at first, but I'm pretty sure the heat of the candles will create a really nice patina on these cans.  That reminds me.  They will get hot.  Don't burn yourself either.  Metal is a conductor. 

The final can and yes I used iMovie to really make it goofy.

     I did a pretty simple basic design on these, but I think you should go nuts.  I can't wait to see what you make.  

I like that this can doesn't have the ridges but I didn't want to cut it up.  These are the best olives I have ever had but I will say that they are definitely not extra hot.  They are extra good though.  If you live in a place where you can get them, send me a case.  I'm going to see if I can find a can without ridges to try, but use what you have.  That's the fun. 

     Good luck, wear gloves, have fun and get to work.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hammer Time

                I recently realized that I have a hammer problem.  Unfortunately there isn't a support group for this.  I know I'm not the only person on the planet that is a collector of odd bits. I'm not even the only tool collector, but I don't really collect tools.  Actually, I don't really collect.  What I do is make, or purchase, or acquire in whatever way possible, hammers.  I even cheat and reform hammers that I pick up cheap so that they do things that they weren't designed to do.  I love moving metal, so hammers are an incredibly useful tool to me.  I only have one claw hammer because I might have to fix the roof or tear something apart.  Mostly, though, I have fantastic specialty hammers.  Hammers that only do one thing.  I was thinking of including a picture of all my hammers here, but I don't want to have to put them all away again and by the time I got far enough away to get them all in one picture the handles would look like toothpicks and you wouldn't be able to make out the heads.  

This is pretty much what my claw hammer looks like only mine is dirtier and more beat up. 
                I was talking to a computer tech guy on the phone who was trying to help me with my online advertising which is unnecessarily complicated if you ask me.  I guess it's job security for the tech guys.  Anyway, he was looking at my web site while trying to come up with search keywords and, of course, he told  me he was learning blacksmithing so he could make knives.  Due to conversations like this one, I am starting to think that most people who are interested in metalwork and smithing are only interested in making knives.  I don't make many knives because there is too much grinding involved in bladesmithing.  I'm more into moving metal than removing metal.  In truth it isn't actually necessary to do any moving of metal when making a blade.  You could make an incredible blade without an anvil, a hammer or a forge.  I suspect this is why so many bladesmiths get into pattern welded blades.  Making the pattern welded billet requires the use of a hammer.  Moving metal with a hammer is so satisfying.  Grinding is not. 

I told the tech guy to start out doing this.  It's the start of a pattern welded billet using cable.  It could be more or less frustrating than stacking and folding.  I don't actually know.
                A hammer is the most basic piece of equipment necessary for moving metal.  There's a physics thing going on there.  A hammer is basically a stick with a weight on the end.  You swing it and it gives you great power.  Ask Thor.  Actually I don't know anything about Thor.  Norse god with hammer.  That's all I know and even that could be wrong.  Then I went off and looked up Thor on Wikipedia (which I know could be totally wrong too) and found our Thursday is named after Thor.  Also he used his hammer to "smash mountains".  That is an insane use for a hammer.  Hammers used properly are tools of creation not tools of destruction.  Plus, I like mountains.  They break up the monotony of not mountains, and help the directionally challenged know which way they are headed.  Unless, of course, they are all around.  Then maybe you have to smash one so you know which way is north.  I have other issues with Thor now that I have a deep Wikipedia understanding of him, but I will save that for another day.  

Ok. Seriously?  This is a toy Thor.  Why does he have wings on his head?  But also that hammer could only be used to smash mountains so now I get the mountain smashing thing. 
               I will say that making a hammer is a really cool thing.  Although, I will also say, it's a lot harder to do if you don't already have a hammer.  It's similar to trying to get your first job.  So very hard because you have never had a job before.  For this reason, I am going to suggest that you buy your first hammer.  Before you know it you will have a hammer problem just like mine.   Thanks to online shopping there are hundreds of places to buy hammers of every sort and every quality.  With a hammer, a pair of tongs, an anvil and a forge, you can work metal hot.  A hammer, a pitch bowl or a chunk of carpet, some chisels and you can work metal cold.  Eventually you will end up with a wall of hammers, four anvils, hundreds of tongs and several forges.  The proverbial slippery slope. 

There are times when I hate the internet and times when I love it.  
                I can't really tell you how to find or chose an anvil.  They are heavy and expensive and if you are looking at used ones they can need a lot of repair which is a little complicated to do.  You can also use a chunk of railroad track in a pinch.  I've never tried this but I know it's done.  Tongs are easier.  They aren't too expensive or once you have a hammer, an anvil and a forge, you can pretty easily make a pair of tongs.  Or 20.  Or however many it takes for you to get totally comfortable with the skills necessary for tong making.  Ideally, you will need a punch to make tongs which you probably should have made, but you need tongs to make a punch so maybe just buy your first pair of tongs.  That was a fun circle.  You can also make a forge.  Purchasing a forge can be pretty pricey.  You don't really need much in the way of tools to make a forge.  I keep making new ones because I haven't found an ideal size.  Or a size that fits every project.  I use gas forges because coal is too complicated to deal with.  If you want to weld in a gas forge you need to add compressed air.  If you want do work in what is now considered the traditional way, make a coal forge.  If you want to be really traditional you will forego mineral coal and make your own charcoal.  And no, you can't just pick up a bag at the store.  It's not the same.  All of that is a distraction from moving metal though.  So just find an old drum or canister or something and make a nice little propane forge.  Add a compressed air valve if you really need to make pattern welded steel.  

I am in no way endorsing or recommending this plan because basically you can kill yourself if you aren't paying attention when you work with compressed flammable gas.  That's true whether you make your own propane forge or buy one.  At least it's a faster death than the one you will experience if you use a coal forge. 
                Lastly, get a hammer.  Or more than just one.  There are different types of smithing hammers that do different kinds of work.  Start with a rounder.  Maybe get a Swedish  pattern hammer or a French.  Those are just fancy cross pein hammers.  Go find some cheap ball pein or sledge hammers and modify them to do what you need.  Make a straight pein hammer from a ball pein hammer.  Finally or eventually, get a chunk of steel and make your own hammer.  That baby will feel so good in your hand that you will never want to put it down.  

This is a pretty inexpensive rounding hammer from The Hammer Source.  It's a pretty good place to start.  There are, naturally, much more expensive rounders and you can also make your own. 

                Guess what?  You now have a hammer problem and there are no support groups for that.

Get to work

Friday, August 3, 2018

Tool time

     My father was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy during World War II. He worked on a Martin PBM-552 "Mariner" out of Banana River Naval Air Station in Cocoa, Florida.  Part of his personal myth was that he was drafted out of his high school classroom the day after he turned 18, and he didn't finish high school until he returned from his service.  I don't actually believe this because he didn't report for duty until the July after he would have graduated.   That information is on his discharge papers.  It's probably partially true though.  The Navy rep probably showed up at school to draft him after he turned 18 but they let him finish high school.  He wasn't sent to an active combat area because both his brothers were already at the front.  In case you are wondering, the Air Force as a separate branch of the military wasn't established until 1947.  After the war.  His other story from his time as a mechanic was, the navy didn't allow the plane he worked on to fly without him riding along.  This could be true.  It seems like a pretty good  way to insure an 18 year old mechanic learns his job fast and well.  My father was a really good mechanic although he used the GI bill to go to college so he didn't have to spend his life fixing engines.  Except that he did.  My father only ever had one tool box.  It weighed approximately 182.3 lbs.  Every tool he ever owned was tossed into that tool box.  In retrospect, I think the most stunning thing about my father's tools was that he didn't have a single screw driver that wasn't stripped.   I don't know how he used them, but he did.  His tool box was chaos and it weighed more than an average human, but if your car broke down and you called him, he would "toss" the tool box in his car,  go to you, and using those useless screw drivers have your engine humming in no time.  Because of my father,  I spent decades with an old pair of stockings in my glove box.  I don't know if that's still a thing.  My father isn't around anymore so I use AAA.  Anyway, even though his tools appeared to be a crazy mess to almost anyone who ever saw his tool box, he understood it.  He knew exactly what he had and how to use it.  It was his system and it worked for him. 
This is the plane my father worked on.  Not this one but this model.

     My grandmother, on the other hand, was a musician and urban farmer.  She was strictly a musician until World War II when she was asked by her country to plant a victory garden.  So she did.  Then she was a musician and an urban farmer.  I think she dedicated herself to learning how to grow food in the same way she had dedicated herself to learning to play music.  She also took care of her tools with the same care she used on her instruments.  By the time I came along, well after the end of the war, my grandmother was growing food on an acre of land in the middle of Denver.  She grew enough food to feed the whole family and each fall was filled with the sound of canning jars popping.  I didn't really taste "store bought" vegetables until I went off to college.  My grandmother had some wonderful quirks.  One of them was that if she sent my father and me out to pick peas in the spring she didn't expect to get any back.  We just ate them as we picked.  The same went for sending me out to pick strawberries in the summer.  She'd send me out with a bowl to gather strawberries to make dessert for supper, and I would return with a bowl with one strawberry in it and my hands and face covered in strawberry juice.   My grandmother would eat the strawberry and then we would make chewy bread, which was my grandmother's version of brownies, for dessert instead.  I now believe sending me out to pick anything was just a ploy to get me out of her hair, but if you have never tasted spring peas fresh off the vine or little jewel type strawberries ripe and warm in the sun, you should definitely put those things on your bucket list.  Those are the food pleasures that no artisanal cafe can even touch.  Anyway, my grandmother was fastidious with her tools and her musical instruments.  Each tool had a place so that she knew exactly where it was and after it was used but before it was put away, it was cleaned.  And just as my father's system worked for him, hers worked for her.
This is a Martin flat back mandolin.  My grandmother had one of these and it's what she played most of the time.  She was apparently an exceptional violinist until she met my grandfather who was an exceptionally bad driver.  The family story is that he had a head on collision with a truck while trying to pass a street car while driving his motorcycle with my grandmother in the side car.  He had no injuries which was how it always went for him, but my grandmother was thrown over a wall and ended up with a broken arm that was set in a way that meant she could never play the violin again.  Good musicians meets bad driver.  So she played the mandolin, opened a music school, and learned to grow things. 

     I live somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but my point is that you need to find your own relationship with your tools.  Once you are comfortable with your tools you will do good work.  This is probably why I keep repeating that I am not a purist.  The work that I do is more important than the specifics of the tools that I do it with.  So as I move forward talking about tools and setting up a shop, keep yourself focused on what you want to do.  There are a lot of means to each end and you need to find the one that works for you.  

     If you are following along with me and building your shop, you now have a massive and sublimely beautiful work table and a stock rack.  Plus a couple of metalworking tools.  You also have less money than you had before and you met your steel yard supply guys.  I really love all my steel guys and I told you last time not to fear them.  They are the best.  The last delivery I got was a week or so ago and it's been really hot here so the steel is really hot on the truck.  I have some beat up work gloves so I put one on to go unload the truck.  The driver just couldn't deal so he reached into the cab and gave me a new pair of work gloves.  He didn't want me to hurt myself.  As he was about to leave he handed me a second pair because he figured I would lose the first pair like he does.  These guys are always so great. 

The work glove I put on to unload the 115 degree steel and the gloves my driver gave me.
     You've also started to think about what you need to do the kind of work you want to do and what would make it easier.  At this point you can go in a number of directions.  If your goal is to do primarily fabrication type work, you can slowly acquire tools that make that easier.  A better way to cut steel.  I use a 7x12 metal cutting band saw.  A lot of people chose to use a cut off saw.  The cut off saw is cheaper but I don't really love the fiber glass particles that it propels into the air.  The "dust" from grinding or cutting with a fiber glass disc does two things.  The metal dust falls to the floor because it's heavy, but the fiber glass particles fly around forever because they are light.  You really don't want those suckers in your lungs.  For me the extra expense of the band saw is worth it.  

This band saw is pretty close to mine.  I don't know what all the little plugs on the lower left are, but the rest is basically the same.  There are smaller band saws, and you can buy a portable band saw and a frame to convert it.  Harbor Freight has one too.  I don't know how the Harbor Freight saw works.  I had a smaller band saw and the problem with those is that the blade is small so it skates.  That means your cuts are not square.  If you are only cutting small stock a smaller band saw is fine or even a large shear.  If you are going to cut larger stock this band saw is a versatile choice.  Band saws are slower cutters so if you are doing production work you probably want a cold saw.  I think of that as a larger shop tool so I'm not going to go into it.  They are pricey but a really sweet way to cut steel.  But they are pricey. 

This is a chop saw.  The fiber glass disc wears away as you cut.  It also spews fiber glass all over your shop.  As I said, the fiber glass dust floats.  This cuts pretty fast, but it's really loud.  Wear lung and ear protection unless you don't want to be able to hear during your short life.  These are relatively cheap and worth every penny.  A lot of fab shops use them.  I really don't like them as you can probably tell. 

     You should also get a drill press.  I got mine at an auction and if that is possible, it's a great way to get tools.  You need to pay attention to the chuck size on any drill press you are looking at.  A 3/8" chuck will drive you insane in a pretty short period of time.  Get at least a 1/2".  It will be tricky on teeny holes but much better the rest of the time.  Also, I prefer a floor model.   

This beauty is exactly my drill press.  It's all cast iron.  It's really old, but it works.  I should probably replace the chuck.

I don't really know about the new drill presses, but this one looks pretty nice.  You are going to need to do some research on this. 

     The last really basic tool is a disc and/or belt grinder.  I have a couple of these.  If you are going to make knives, you will need to do some research to find the best grinders for that.  I like the one I have.  It has a quick change unit and mounts on a bench grinder so I can change the belts in a couple of seconds.  This is good if you are making knives, but even if you aren't making knives work will be easier with a disc or belt grinder or both.  There are so many of these and this is a really personal decision.  Figure out what you are going to do with it and pick the grinder that does that. 

This is a basic bench disc grinder.  I would get a 12" dia.  It's a pretty useful tool.

This is the quick change belt grinder I have.  It's a Multitool attachment kit.  You attach it to your bench grinder.  The belt is really easy to change so you can go from roughing to polishing very easily.  I'm sure it's not good enough if you are making knives professionally, but it works for my needs. 

     I have a lot of other tools because I do a lot of different types of metalwork.  Some I got because they were there and it seemed like a good idea.  This is why I have four anvils.  Nobody needs four anvils.  I also have a lathe.  I use it all the time.  I got by before I had it, but a guy was getting rid of it and I couldn't pass it up.  I'm happy I have it.  I had a little milling machine for a while.  It was too small so I traded it for something.  I don't actually remember what now.  I know it wasn't money.  I have a Hossfeld bender.  I used to use it more than I do now.  I have a shear.  I have a compressor.  Most tools after the basics are purchased or made for a specific job.  Then they become part of your arsenal.  You can do more because you have the tool to do more.  

This is a Hossfeld bender.  It is designed to bend steel cold.  It has a number of dies so you can bend different steel shapes into different steel shapes.  It's a pretty amazing tools actually. 

    There are a lot of ways to work with metal.  Each practice has its own set of tools.  Of course there is overlap.  As we go forward, I'm going to talk about the thing that I think most people are interested in first and then move on to some tools and techniques that I think are interesting too.  Next month I will begin to go into the tools necessary for blacksmithing which includes bladesmithing tools.  As I talk about tools I will also start to introduce techniques.  

     I hope you will practice your welding so that you are comfortable with that and are ready to use a hammer.  In the meantime make a feed table for your saw.  Make some horses.  Make a feed stand for long pieces on your disc grinder and drill press.  There are a lot of pieces of shop equipment that you will need and need to make for yourself.  This is the month for that.  Enjoy the learning process.

Such a fancy feed table.  Mine is so crude compared to this, but it works.  This is just an idea.  It doesn't need to be this fancy.  It doesn't need these rollers.  You can make rollers with solid bar and pipe.  It doesn't need to be height adjustable, but that is nice.  Take this opportunity to design what works for you.

You can buy this stand cheap at Harbor Freight.  They fall over.  They are too light.  Design a better version for yourself and make it. 

This is a horse.  It is not the horse you need to make for your shop, but it is a pretty cool horse.

Back to the heat...
Go have fun.