Monday, November 3, 2008

Tap Troubles

I am making another chandelier consisting of two pieces of fabricated steel that are joined together by four machine screws into blind holes . Since the screw holes had to line up I clamped the two fabbed pieces together, drilled the four holes through both the first piece of metal into the second piece of metal. Then I tapped the blind holes, drilled a slightly large hole in the first piece of metal, and screwed them together. All the holes were aligned just the way I had in mind.

Then I decided I was unhappy with the way the two pieces of metal were lined up. I've commented in an earlier post that one can get away with a lot in art, but less so with design. These pieces of steel were definitely design. Why did I notice the misalignment now and not before I did the fabrication? The truth is that I did notice but I was so focused on getting the piece done I just ignored the flaw thinking it was not that bad.

A half hour of cutting apart, grinding, and welding and I was again ready to join the two pieces. Two holes lined up, two did not. No problem, the welder was right at hand, so I welded the two holes shut, ground them flat, and remarked the new holes in their slightly different location.

In the back of my mind I remembered reading somewhere that weld material was a lot harder than mild steel. The first clue about this memory came when I drilled the new holes and noticed it took longer. The next clue was when I broke a tap in the first hole. Maybe the tap was worn somehow as it was part of a lot of old taps I had purchased at a closed machine shop? No, the final clue was when I broke a second tap in the second hole.

A definition of insanity I read once was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I do this all the time on computers. Type something, it does not work. Maybe I miskeyed it, so I type it again. But I only do it twice. My typing is not that bad, and two taps in a row could not be bad either.

I am learning machining by experience. This was a pretty cheap lesson with a price of two taps and an hour or so of rework. Learning how to do it right the first time is a harder lesson to learn.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sand casting emotions

I am trying to sort out my thoughts about this video on Youtube. First there is amazement because he is doing something in 1 minute and 12 seconds that takes me well over an hour. Take a look, he is filling a mold with green sand, preparing a part that will be cast in the foundry. There is an economy of motion that comes from doing the same thing a zillion times. There is a big stack of molds and when he finishes this one, he will do the next, and the next, and the next.

The filled mold he tosses around weighs 50 to 60 pounds yet he is really hustling. Maybe for the camera but more likely because he gets paid by the piece.

If you do not know any better it looks easy. However if the sand is not just right it falls out or compresses too much. If the sprue is not inserted just right then loose sand winds up in the wrong place and ruins the final piece. When he plonks the final mold down at the end the cavity does not collapse because he has done this so many times the acceptable force is embedded in his muscles.

Sixty times faster than I can do it, sixty times. True, he has a machine to compress the sand, and an air blower for the loose sand whereas I do everything manually. True, everything is set up for efficiency; sand in an overhead compartment so he does not have to shovel it into the mold and the riddle and spruing tool are at hand. This is part of the explanation - but still - the years of repetition and experience are the real difference.

I have done that kind of manual labor in my life but it was a long time ago and I was never as skilled at that job as he is at his. I look at him with admiration and envy although I know he would switch jobs with me in an instant. At the end he looks at the camera as if to say, 'You got that bud'? I have to reply, 'No, I don't think I do and I don't think I ever will.'

Sunday, October 19, 2008

75% off

In the never ending project to clean up my shop I completed the cabinets I was building under my workbench. I got a bunch of magnetic catches from eBay. Now what to use for handles? They are pretty expensive and I did not want to take the time to make some.

Thenmy wife and I were in a hardware store and passed a bin filled with cabinet hardware. $2.00 each but 75% off! That is a perfect price for a shop.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Men of Steel

An interesting video of building the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge. From an era when men were men, steel was riveted, and OSHA had yet to be on the scene. Only a few years later Rosie was doing the riveting (and the welding), building Liberty ships at the Kaiser shipyards.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Diacro tooling

Several years ago I bought a Diacro #2 Bender. This is a beautifully made machine for bending steel bar and tube. Put the piece of metal between two pins, apply some leverage, and you have a bend. The Cadillac of benders is the Hossfeld and, IMHO, the Rolls Royce is the Diacro. Of course, if I had a Hossfeld I might reverse the analogy. All of the inexpensive benders on eBay are based on the Hossfeld design because it is much easier to copy.

My Diacro came with a roller nose and no tooling. Easy enough to make some pins but the roller nose is for curves, not sharp bends. Not only do I need a standard nose, I need tons of tooling. Want to bend square or round tube? Want to make sharp 90 degree bends? Want to make spirals? All of these require tooling that, similar to mills and lathes, can easily cost more than the machine.

Over the years I have had the bender, my tooling desire has grown. Finally, with my new mill, I can make it myself. The photo shows my first project, a standard nose which is sitting on the bender. Above it, installed on the handle is the roller nose.

Doing the math, I spent a couple of thousand for a mill that I used to make a tool worth a couple of hundred. Only nine more tools to go before I am even!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rong Fu Report (RF-45) 4 : Chips at last!

I've been making chips - mild steel and aluminum - and am pretty happy. I can take big cuts in aluminum (1/2 " and 3/4" two flute HSS end mills) and decent cuts in steel (1/2" four flute). The gears make it easy to get the right speed and when I eventually figure out how to set an exact speed using the VFD with the gears it will be even better.

Since my old mill did not have a quill I was stuck with the typically inadequate translated instructions to figure out how to use it. First, the quill lock lever can block turning the quill fine feed wheel. The photo shows the lock lever in a vertical position and you can see if it gets moved any more to the right to the locked position it will run into the fine feed wheel. After a hint from a friend, I discovered the lock lever is on a spring so you can lock it, and then move the lever to another position.

Next I could not engage the fine feed. The coarse quill adjustment is similar to a drill press - three spokes sticking out of a wheel so you can turn it easily. At the center of the wheel is a knob and I turned it all the way out thinking it would disengage the coarse adjustment. After playing around I discovered it had to be turned all the way in, engaging the coarse adjustment with the worm drive of the fine adjustment.

I spent an evening milling a chunk of 3/4" thick steel getting into the rhythm of using the power feed and the quill. What a pleasure!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rong Fu Report (RF45) - 3: Problems, problems

My old mill had a MT2 taper and the new one was R8 so I purchased a set of import end mill holders. None of them would go all the way into the quill and they appeared to hang up near the end of the groove. Either the groove was too shallow, or the pin inside the mill was too long. I sought out the help of a friend, MM. He had sent me a R8 spec and while the groove appeared pretty shallow it did, in fact, meet the specification.

We needed to tram the mill anyway so we decided to turn the head 90 degrees and take a look. Three large nuts needed to be loosened to rotate the head there was a small pin that prevented me from putting a wrench on the right hand bolt head and the nuts were tightened so much we had to use a rubber mallet on the wrench. The pin and a small nut is just visible above to the right of the large nut in the photo.

"What is this about?" I asked. MM showed no hesitation and unscrewed the little nut and pulled it out. Was it bravery on his part? Nah, just lots of experience working on mills. "It's a taper pin" he said and he carefully put it aside.

We rotated the head and there were two pins that fit inside the R8 groove to guide it. The one in the front was fine and the one in the back stuck out two hundredths. A little filing and every end mill holder in the set fit.

We rotated the mill back to apparent zero and he showed me how to tram it. It took only two tries and MM advised me, "This will never happen again. It always takes five or six tries to get it right." Before the final tightening he inserted the taper pin which fit perfectly. Apparently the Rong Fu folks tram the mill, drill a hole, and then insert a pin - a nice touch. In order to loosed the nuts holding the head in place we had needed to hit the wrench with a dead blow mallet. I think they were tightened so much at the factory so shipping would not change the tram.

Finally I was ready to make chips, but MM looked at the VFD and the motor wiring diagram and told me I had wired it incorrectly. My sequence was a plug to the disconnect, then to the VFD, which was wired to the mill switch. In other words, I was delivering 3 phase power to the switch, and then through the switch to the motor. The issue is electronic components in the switch that would eventually cause problems for the inverter, the motor, or both. In addition I could not use the inverter to change the motor speed in this configuration. The proper way was to connect the inverter directly to the motor.

The following weekend I rewired the VFD directly to the motor and discovered I could now change the motor speed with the inverter. Unfortunately this meant that the nice big red OFF button no longer worked and I had to use a tiny button on the inverter to turn the mill off. I knew there would be times I wanted a nice, big, hand off switch so I wired a large DPDT switch controlling all the power to the mill, and put it in a convenient spot. Eventually I will figure out how to wire the mill switches so they control the inverter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rong Fu Report (RF45) - 2: Setup and Inspection

I purchased the mill through J&L Industrial and had lots of conversations with them because the trucker lost the shipment and the situation got complicated. Their customer service is first rate and I have nothing but good things to say about them. During one of these conversations one of their supervisors said that they tested and lubricated these mills and when I checked all the grease points had fresh clean grease and the oil appeared very clean.

Visually, there was one cosmetic flaw in the table casting (L side of the table in the photo) and, l0oking at the inside of the column, there was some casting flash that was easily removed. In addition I was disappointed that the table handles were plastic rather than metal but, all things considered, the mill seemed well made and at the high end of import machinery.

The power to my garage is a long heavy duty extension cord connected to a 110V, 20 amp circuit. This mill comes with either a 1.5 HP, 220V single phase motor or a 1 HP, 3 phase motor. Due to my power limitation, I opted for the 3 phase motor because I could fit a 110V VFD inverter to it. I knew that DrivesWarehouse carried a TECO that would fit these specs. I called them first and got a sales person who was not helpful in answering my questions about how to set up the VFD for a mill.

Surfing the web I found a less expensive TECO at Dealers Industrial Equipment Their sales engineer explained that the JNEV-101-H1, was both newer and had more features than the FM50-101-C and, in particular, produced wave forms that were easier on the motor. His expertise sold me so I bought the VFD and mounted it on a board with a main disconnect, a heavy duty power cord, and a 110V receptacle for the mill X drive motor.

With some trepidation, I wired the mill to the VFD and when I fired it up, the VFD came on but the mill just sat there. What had I done wrong? Finally I figured out that the '5' on the VFD display was hertz rather than amps so I cranked it up to 60hz and the mill started running - that is to say it started running backwards. An easy fix - swapped two of the three hot leads - and it ran in the correct direction.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rong Fu Report (RF45) - 1: Moving and uncrating

When I was deciding upon a mill I found reports from others very helpful. If you are interested in art and philosophy - stop reading now - this is about moving and set up.

The stand was delivered a week ahead of the mill and assembly was straightforward. The sheet metal seemed a bit flimsy to support the 800# mill however the stand was well designed to handle the weight. The stand is used for several models of mill-drills and came with instructions for an RF30 or 31. The shipping carton itself, however, had instructions for the RF-40/45. The top of the stand is a chip tray with gutters for flood coolant leading to a hole in the back where one can attach a hose. The top of the stand has 8 holes, 4 aligned for the RF30 models and a different set of 4 for the RF 40 models. There are rubber plugs for the holes that do not get used. Assembly was straightforward - no written instructions but the graphics were clear enough.

I paid extra for a lift-gate delivery so the mill was delivered to my yard. It was on a pallet, crated with mdf. The mdf was a bit scuffed, but everything was in order. I used a long 2 x 4 to pry up the crate, put some 2" pipe under it, and pushed it into the garage. A one person operation although it would have been a little easier to have a second person to place the pipe.

The next step was to uncrate the mill. It came assembled except for the table handles. The entire mill was in a big plastic bag. All of the the exposed metal had the usual grease which was covered with plastic sheeting. I removed all of this, wiped the grease off, and cleaned it further with kerosene. Kerosene is OK but not my favorite smell so I wiped everything as dry as possible and then oiled it lightly.

I started debating how to lift it with the shop crane without damaging the mill - or me! Fortunately the instruction manual had an illustration showing it should be lifted with a sling around the head.

I only had one, relatively short sling, so I put it right at the collar and when I lifted it, the mill tilted slightly to the back so I did not have to worry about it slipping out. While I maneuvered the shop crane, my wife graciously pushed and pulled the mill to align it with the bolt holes. Finally all the bolts were in place and secured, and then I remembered the 4 rubber plugs for the holes that were not used. I decided to push them through from the bottom rather than lift and then realign the mill. The way the gutters are designed I think the inside will stay dry however time will tell.

Friday, August 1, 2008

American Iron Guilt

My Benchmaster mill is just too small for my needs. The main problems are having only 9.5" between the spindle and the table and a 1/2 hp motor. Nonetheless, I am feeling some guilt over selling my venerable Benchmaster mill (true 'American Iron') and buying an import mill. Note that I am already being defensive by using the word 'import' rather than the truth, "Chinese'. The deeper truth is Taiwanese.

Anyone who knows about machinery knows that mainland Chinese mill-drills range from total junk to merely poor quality. It is not that the Chinese can not, or do not make high quality mills. Rather the home-shop mill-drills they export are driven by price, not quality.

The mill I purchased, a Rong Fu, is made in Taiwan and has a reputation for having decent quality, albeit, not as good as American mills. Of course, there are no American mill-drills and the only smaller American mills that exist are, like my Benchmaster, 40 to 60 years old.

Without further ado, here is my rationalization.

The Benchmaster has no quill, 1/2 hp motor, limited speeds via belts, and uses MT-2 tooling. The RF-45 has a quill, 1 hp 3 phase motor, 6 geared speeds plus a VFD, R-8 tooling, twice the Z Axis , has an X Axis power feed, and like the Benchmaster has dovetail ways. It may not have the rigidity of the Benchmaster but it is not 60 years old.

Does this rationalization carry the day? I will not be happy until I am milling away with half the passes and the same precision. Meanwhile, my wife says, 'Aren't you excited about getting a new mill?'

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The dispersal god is smiling

I'd been trying to sell my car for a month on Craigslist. There were tons of cars for sale, people would call, never show up, then no one would call. Discouraging. Then the gods smiled, four people called, one showed up with cash. Done, done, done.

What does this have to do with metalwork? I've been trying to clean up my shop because I want to invite some fellow machinists to visit and one of them has an immaculate shop. I, on the other hand, have leaves on the floor, half finished projects all over, piles of tools, and even more piles of stuff. I know it is like cleaning before your in-laws visit, but I feel I need to do something before I have them over. And, truth to tell, I want to get a bigger mill and do not have the space.

So under the smiling deity in short order I sold an old welder I never used, sold my old foundry furnace, and sold my old mill. I've got all the space and half the money I need for the new mill. Seems like I am on a roll - but we'll see.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Greeks, Romans, and my welding

I might be making this up but I recall from somewhere that the Greeks sculpted figures so they could be viewed on all sides - even if the figure could not be possibly seen from all sides. For example, the figures on the sides of temples could not be seen from the back but the sculpture was done completely. It had to do with some idea of beauty or perfection.

Not so for the Romans. If a Roman sculpture could not be seen from one angle, they simply stopped carving at the point where it could not be visible. Perhaps practical rather than perfect.

This came to mind when fixing the stand to my 4 x 6 el cheapo horizontal bandsaw from Harbor Freight. There I was sitting on the shop floor trying to weld a brace into a sheet metal corner. My new knee was throbbing, I could not see very well, and I did some of the ugliest welds possible. The welds will hold OK, but they sure are ugly. On the other hand, they were in a position where they will not be visible - unless someone turns the whole saw upside down.

I am a believer in perfection but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and move on.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lovin' Lost Foam

While the big piece took an hour to ram up in petrobond the little leaf pieces were just plonked down in play sand. For the right type of piece lost foam is a pleasure!

Here is one of them still hot from the mold. It is interesting to note that the foam leaflets were very fine and fragile yet the cast leaflets are much thicker. The play sand I am using is pretty coarse and very loose so my theory is the aluminum just pushed it a bit to the sides.

Learning Lost Foam

Finally rehabbed enough to trust my new knee to a pour. The technique of lost foam is still a work in progress probably because I keep pushing the boundaries of my technique. As you can see there are holes in the walls - on the inner left side at the top and middle and the other right side. This piece is a 7" cube, hollowed out, and the walls are roughly 3/8" thick. Typically voids occur when the thermal mass of the foam overcomes the aluminum and it freezes before vaporizing the foam.

The pour was made from the top to the four corners so I would expect voids at the bottom. Maybe the voids near the top are due to the colder temperature of aluminum at the end of the pour. Maybe - but why the voids in the middle? Fortunately it works artistically.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back in the shop ....

I've progressed to the point where I can sit in the shop but not operate any machinery. What to do? Make some sculptures from styrofoam, natch! When I get a lot better, probably in a few weeks, I'll fire up the furnace and cast them in Aluminum.

Ever since I visited the Grand Canyon a few years ago I have wanted to make a sculpture that would convey the incredible feeling of being present there. I have tried a few pieces that have all failed and this one is the latest. It is the convergence of the Little Colorado with the Colorado at the Eastern end of the canyon. Not to scale, not very accurate, just an impression of my memory.

The styrofoam slices were cut on my homemade foam cutter - a piece of MIG wire, tensioned by a spring, and hooked up to a battery charger that you can see in the background. I cut the slices and used dabs of hot melt glue to hole them together.

While I was putting the rejected parts of the slices aside I noticed they had some pretty nice shapes. A little work with the glue gun and I had three more sculptures. These slices might be too thin to cast properly. However, unlike the first piece, I do not have a lot of time invested in them and I can cast them using a quick method with loose sand rather than petrobond which is more time consuming.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

YouTube bored

My rehab has progressed to the point where there is not enough pain or books to occupy my attention so I turned to YouTube - for machining videos, natch! The different flavors are very interesting. The fall into amateur, educational, and sales.

In the sales category, all the video sales ads for CNC equipment remind me of a stripper bar - at least the ones I've seen in movies and TV since I've never never been in one. (How did I miss out all these years?) Anyway, the characteristics are pounding rock music, spewing fluids, and smoke. Does this really sell stuff, Matsusura?

Tormach has a much more cerebral approach with light electronic music and commentary on the machine operations, speeds, feeds, and tooling that are being used.

I'll keep my eye out for some other good ones.

Friday, April 11, 2008

My new best friend (s)

While I was in the recovery room immediately after knee surgery my surgeon walked in, said the operation went well, and patted the Continuous Passive Motion machine that had been delivered a few minutes earlier. 'This is your new best friend,' he said.

It seems that bad outcomes from knee joint replacement operations were mainly due to patients not doing the incredibly painful physical therapy. The solution; dope you to the gills, strap your leg into this contraption, and it bends your knee over and over again. There is some kind of mechanism in the plastic base, probably an acme screw, that pulls your foot up gently bending the knee and then pushes it back down. There are fleecy pads that hold everything in place, a nicely finished stainless steel structure for the machine, and controls for bend angle and bend rate.

Marguerite (friend #1), was my recovery room nurse. She got the fleecy pads on but struggled to figure out how to adjust the device correctly. The delivery guy (friend #2) was no help and quickly bailed. Marguerite recruited the occupational therapist (#3) and then the physical therapist (#4). No matter what they did the stainless steel bar at the end dug into my butt, and part of my leg was not supported. The machine was the wrong size they concluded. 'Don't worry' Marguerite said, 'You are moving to a room and I'll have a new one delivered.'

In my room I met my new nurse, Jensine (#5) who, in her way, was just as fabulous as Marguerite. Maybe it was the drugs but I don't think so - they were both fabulous. The new machine was delivered, set up, and I was strapped in again. The fit was much better but the bar at the end still dug into my butt. After a half hour of bending I noticed that my thigh was moving sideways in a weird way. 'It's broken,' Jensine said and sure enough one of the welds had given way. My TIG welding of stainless sure isn't the greatest but I expected a little better from the medical machine manufacturers.

A third machine was delivered, and Jensine recruited the nurse across the way (#6) to help. She took one look and said, 'The pads are on backwards." Sure enough, a little switcheroo, and I was in the bending business with no pains in my butt. Thank you, thank you!!!

Before I left the hospital my surgeon paid a last visit. 'We like patients to use these machines at home for a few weeks but your insurance doesn't cover it. Do you want to rent one on your own or just do the physical therapy exercises?" I demurred on the machine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Theft - the chandelier saga

Good artists copy. Great artists steal. This is an unsourced quote of Picasso who might well have stolen it from T.S. Eliot ("Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal"). Why this quote? Maybe I am trying to rationalize my theft because, for some reason, I am a terrible designer. I always start working on a piece thinking if it goes badly I can fix it up later. Artists can usually pull this off, can cover up, or can even ignore flaws. Designers have to get everything right in their execution.

But to the point, my wife and I were in Design Expo, the fancy Home Depot, getting some track lighting for the kitchen. I noticed a very nice looking light (Hunter-Conroy Geometry Light) and thought it would be great for the dining room ceiling. They had a sale so I talked myself into paying $200 for the light which, as seems typical of of Design Expo, was out of stock. Two months later, it finally came in and when I was installing it I noticed that one of the components was off by about 1/4" - it was not square. I tried to convince myself it would not matter - but it did. So I returned it, waited another month, and then they told me it was no longer available. At this point I had to have the light so I started thinking how to make one.

The design was four rectangles of square tube, each containing a rectangular halogen light. I could not locate a square halogen light but I could find round ones. So I changed the design from squares to linked circles. Solving the light problem I now had to figure out how to bend square tube into circles. Not sloppy circles, but nice circles. Moreover they had to be joined together nicely because in design you simply can not fake bad workmanship. This was beyond my skills, I had met my match. But I still had light lust in my heart and satisfying that lust was worth two hundred bucks.

A few weeks later we were in Design Within Reach buying a couple of chairs. I wandered around and saw a very cool chandelier. $2,600 was a little more than the $200 I was willing to spend but the more I looked at it the more I thought I could make something like it. You be the judge -- is my chandelier a copy or a theft? (Note: the pic in this blog entry is the DWR chandelier).

Postscript: after I finished the chandelier I got a new catalog from King Architectural Metals, a great resource for fancy gates and fences. They now carry square tube circles so maybe my first idea is something I can make.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Metal yards part 2 - Drops and Cut Offs

The first metal yard I patronized was Alco Iron and Metal in San Leandro. I was referred there by my welding instructor, an attractive lady blacksmith, who said she got great prices with a little flirting. The best deals, she told me, were 'cut-offs' or the left over pieces when they cut something for another customer.

When I went down there I knew flirting would not work. I'm not gay and neither are the guys in the yard. But I did remember to ask for cut-offs and was eventually given directions to an area of shorter pieces, all jumbled together, and was gratified to get a discount. Service at Alco turned out to be reserved for big orders and little orders like me got short shrift from the yard guys and the counter guy. And, should you wonder, every person in a metal yard is a guy.

Several months later I discovered Naylor Steel in Hayward. Viva la difference! A much smaller operation than Alco but everything was organized. The yard guys were helpful, efficient, and even loaded up my truck. However when I asked for 'cut-offs' I got a blank look. When I explained, they said, "Oh, you mean 'drops.' " They too were neatly organized in bins according to shape and size. At the front counter is a display showing every steel shape they have in stock, measuring tapes you can borrow, and wipes to clean your hands if you forget to bring gloves.

Naylor is 20 minutes further than Alco, but they got my business.

Carhenge and my dream

An email from a friend about big cubes somehow reminded me of Carhenge . It was designed by Jim Reinders, student of Stonehenge, and built by his family and friends. It is a memorial, a tourist attraction, and many people think it is a kind of joke - or at least something to smile about or perhaps smile at.

Having wandered about Carhenge several times there is also a quality of mystery about the space just like it's namesake, there is a way the dolmenic shapes organize the space of the plains, and there is the surprise of seeing an Edsel.

Wonderful things can happen when artists intersect with junk. As for my dream, it is to someday be artist in residence in a scrap yard.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Metal yards - starting with junk

Just as wood comes in shapes so does steel. There are only six; bar, rod (square and round), tube, pipe, plate, and sheet. That's it. When I was a beginning wood sculptor, I would find interesting branches and roots, and then combine them with machine cut wood or plywood to make a sculpture. Eventually my technique improved so I could do whatever I wanted. My method evolved from starting with a branch to visualizing the finished piece and then making it.

When I first started to make welded sculpture I barely could weld two pieces of steel together. I could not 'see' a finished piece in my head and fabricate it. I started visiting junk yards, looking for odd pieces of steel in the same way I looked for branches and roots. To the chagrin of my neighbor, I filled my driveway with junk metal so I would always have an interesting piece to kick start the creative process.

My favorite yard was South Bay Metals in Gilroy. They had acres of treasures so every time I got down to Gilroy I would stop by. A few years ago I would never have revealed this treasure lest other artists get the good stuff. This treasure can be revealed because, alas, they were not making enough money in the scrap business and started cleaning up the yard. The acres of treasures have been reduced to just a few desultory containers. I still stop by but it is not the same.

Fortunately my technique has improved to the point where I no longer need a piece of inspiring junk to get me started. I am not as facile with steel as I was with wood but I am pretty much to the point visualizing the piece and then being able to fabricate it. And I have (mostly) cleaned up my driveway.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Finally a good picture!

It is amazing how hard it was to take a good picture of this chandelier. The background is distracting, the colors are wrong. the light is too bright, not bright enough. My amateur photographer son got the best one - daylight with a fill in flash. And, yes, I did replace all the plastic candelabra tubes with steel. Turns out that 3/4" EMT is the perfect size.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A new knee

Many years after a youthful life with several motorcycles, including one broken leg, the knee on that leg needs replacement. At a pre-surgical orientation meeting the nurse passed around a couple of knees. They are heavy suckers - maybe 3# - look like ordinary stainless but turn out to be a Cobalt - Chromium alloy. The outside surface is highly polished so it can slide on the plastic insert but the inside surface looks like unfinished casting, which I assume is deliberate in order to provide a better surface for the cement.

Orthopedic surgeons are the evolution of 'sawbones', sort-of kind-of the way folks who program CNC equipment are the evolution of blacksmiths. I think in a lot of ways blacksmiths understand more about metal than CNC programmers. Now let's see, this means my surgeon ? Well, I hope he turns out to be an artist with CNC.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Does Google know about 'the life in steel'? Not yet, but the phrase brought up a paper on the philosophy of the body.

The steel nails forged by traditional Japanese blacksmiths contain more impurities than modern nails produced in the smelting furnace. Yet, it has been discovered that nails taken out from structures built six hundred years ago are still without rust and in perfect condition to be reused today. This fact, which goes against the theories of science, may not in itself demonstrate the belief that everything was alive, but it does suggest how the blacksmith’s long-standing conviction of the life in steel could be poured into a single nail to become a powerful and lasting life force.

The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement, Hiroyuki Noguchi

International Journal of Sport and Health Science Vol2, 8-24,2004 p13

Back to the shop - sort of

Took a close look at the chandelier and noticed that one of the candelabra covers was shorter than the others. Hmm, what's with that? Turns out my wife left the chandelier on all day because she liked it (thank you!) and it melted one of the plastic covers that had slipped a little bit so the end was touching the bulb. At least it did not start a fire!

This is what I get for using plastic (with chrome spray paint) like the lamp parts guy told me to do. My apparent choices were cardboard and plastic but, as the name of my blog says, I'm going to find some steel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Half done

Here is a pic with about half the crystals hung, the rest are still on order. Hard to see it well but you get the idea.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Finished the grooving and more!

This weekend I finished the grooves, Had some chattering until I centered the cutter very precisely and then it cut beautifully. Welded some ends on the tube - my first stainless steel welding with mig. It too worked beautifully although the welding seemed pretty hot. Might be due to using regular mig Argon mix (75% AR, 25% CO2) rather than the tri-mix you are supposed to use with stainless. I was too cheap to buy a whole tank for two minutes of welding.

The piece is going to be a chandelier and in a few weeks when I get all the crystals hung on it I'll post a pic.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tool making and empowerment

When I first learned to weld about six or seven years ago I started noticing welded joints everywhere. Fences, railings, and metal wine racks that had always been in my visual background suddenly popped out and became fascinating. I'd look at an ordinary railing and think, ‘I could make that’.

More accurately I might be able to make that with a few years of training and lots of equipment. When I really thought about it the fascination was that I now knew how it was made. I'd always done home repair kind of stuff but this was much vaster. If push came to shove, I could develop the skills to make a lot of stuff myself.

A few years later when I was struggling with making curved metal shapes I discovered the English Wheel. I had never seen or used an English Wheel but it looked like the right tool. Unfortunately they were really expensive so I started looking on eBay – and they were still expensive. However, some guy was selling the anvil wheels and I had the realization that, even with my modest welding skills, I could buy some anvils and make a wheel. I studied all the pictures I could find, made a design, bought some steel, and built my wheel.

It is hard to describe the profound feeling of empowerment in making a tool. Throughout my adult life I had been making computers dance but this was very different. Computer programming is abstract but tools change the physical world. Somehow I got in touch with one of the creative forces that contributed to the development of civilization. On top of that I could also make nice curved shapes in sheet metal!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Groove tool

A few minutes with the grinder and I have the tool I need. My first custom tool bit! The holder is a Phase II.

Works fine with mild steel - stainless is next.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Fast Service
from Enco. Turns out their warehouse is in Nevada so I got next day delivery with standard UPS. About $4 for a nice piece of HSS 5% cobalt tool steel and $46 for other stuff so I could get the free shipping with a $50 order promo. I really DO need all that other stuff. Off to grind my first home-ground tool bit.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I want to cut a bunch of thin grooves, about 1/2" apart, on a 30" length of 1" tube. Why would I want to do such a thing? That is a mystery that hopefully will be revealed in the future. I don't like to tell too much about a piece until it is done. However, at this moment, how hard could it be? Grab a length of tube, put it on the lathe, and cut some grooves, right?

The first problem is that my lathe (10" swing, vintage 1951) can almost, but not quite, take a 30" length of tube. OK, I'll change my design to 26". Still too long to fit in the chuck with a bull nose live center on the chuck. Hmm, maybe the new (to me) steady rest will be steady enough. Yes, I can see the smiles from all of you who know it is NOT steady enough. Wobbling away, way, way.

I then spent about 1/2 hour messing around with adjustments and a dial indicator to get it really centered in the rest. Still wobbles a bit even to my untrained eye.

All righty-rooty, change the design to 3/4" tube which will fit through my headstock. That should do it - and it does. Got the tube mounted on the lathe. This is a test piece so I just put on the first lathe tool that was at hand with an angled point.

Gee, is round tubing really round? Sort of, but not round enough to prevent the groove from being thin in some places and fat in others where the tube is slightly oval. If you look real close you can see I broke the very end of the carbide tip due to the initial interrupted cuts. By the way this test tubing was painted and the irregularity in the middle of the grooves in the picture is where the paint chipped.

Good thing I don't care how deep the groove is -- but it does have to look even. One contributor to the problem is the screw cutting tool. The triangular shaped cutting part cuts a fatter groove the deeper it goes. I need a rectangular shaped cutting tool rather than a triangle. The parting tool fits the bill but it is 1/8" wide and I want a groove that is around 1/32" wide.

Off to the industrial supply catalogs. Let's see .... groove tools, indexable groove tools, parting tools ..... Closest thing is a groove tool for cutting thin 'O' rings. Just the ticket, except for the tariff which is $43.12 plus shipping. Maybe if I wanted to do hundreds but I only want to do 40 or so grooves for a one-off. Order some rectangular HSS tool stock that will fit in my parting tool holder. Gotta make my own groove tool -- just like a real machinist. (to be continued).