Yeah, that teensy-weensy little pool of molten metal in arc welding was cool, but it was time to move up to the next level. A big glowing pot full of silver liquid awesomeness. Oh, yeah.
I have been reading about other people’s exploits in melting metal and sandcasting with it for a year or two, both in books and on various websites. It all sounded rather complicated and intimidating, until I came across a particular Instructable on the Pizza Sauce Can Furnace. It advertised “Melt Aluminum for $3 and some begging!”, which just coincidentally matches my ideal price range.
By all descriptions, aluminum was one of the easiest metals to start with, and is certainly readily available as scrap. It was my first objective.
I made a simple foundry furnace using two steel cans, one inside the other with a little air gap between them. Not an efficient furnace, but a simple proof-of-concept. I punched some holes in the bottom of the inner can, filled it with charcoal, and blasted it with some air from the shop-vac blower. And guess what? Yes, it proved the concept.
I melted some scraps of aluminum in a tin can from the kitchen. That tin can is a “crucible” in fancy-pants foundry talk, and it’s not actually tin, it’s steel. But it is also thin steel, and the charcoal got so hot with that shop-vac blower, that it burned right through the can. The funny part was that I didn’t know right away that it had burned through. Because the can was surrounded by a pile of coals, I couldn’t see the sides. But I could see inside, and I got a nice gleaming silver pool of molten aluminum filling part of the can. So I started adding more aluminum into it, to fill up the can. It was amazing how much I could add to that can and not fill it up. It was a magical can. I could just add, and add, and add, and add more aluminum…. Until I finally got a clue and realized that it had to be going somewhere.
I dumped the tin can (ahem, I mean crucible) of aluminum into a simple mold I made from a piece of steel angle-iron, to get a nice triangular bar. That’s an “ingot” if you are one of those fancy-pants foundry guys. After the charcoal cooled, I found the secret magician’s trap door where all my aluminum went from my magic crucible. Under the coals, between the two steel buckets, was strange rounded chunk of aluminum. Oops, rather, I mean, look at the fascinating sculpture I formed from my special aluminum drip art process. Yeah, that’s it… Yeah…
The shop vac was too much, so I replaced it with an old hair dryer, which was much better. I also replaced the air-gap steel bucket with a better fire-brick bucket. More on that to come later.
Jessica bought a flat panel TV, and wanted to attach it to the wall with some sort of swing-arm mount. The prices at the store were outrageous. Armed with my moderately-trustworthy arc welder and couple of discarded bed frames, we set out to construct one ourselves.
We started by building a cardboard mock-up model. We needed to determine the proper size and shape to fit the TV and wall. First we made a rough model by just bending the cardboard where we thought the joints should go. Then we made a second cardboard model which accurately fit the exact shape and size. We used bamboo skewers for the hinge pins. Once we had everything right, we were ready to build the real thing.
Construction mostly consisted of copying the cardboard pattern onto the angle iron. Most of the arm was fairly simple. The hinges were a challenge. I could not find nylon bushings at the hardware store to match the size of the bolts, so I used polyethylene sockets for caster wheels and trimmed them to fit.
The TV was made to stand on a large foot; it did not include anything for a wall-mount bracket type of configuration. However, it was made with an aluminum frame around the perimeter. We removed the foot and made an X-shaped metal bracket, which we screwed to the frame at the outer edges.
After the sections were welded and filed down smooth, we painted it black with semi-gloss spray paint. We bolted it to the wall with concrete anchors (since this wall is a solid concrete wall behind the panelling) and it works great.
I received a Baldor metal grinder with 10-inch wheels, on its own pedestal floor stand, discarded from a school metal shop program. Several owners before me did not know what to do with it, mainly because the motor is wired for three-phase industrial power which is not found in U.S. residential homes. My job was to fix it up and get it working.
There were two major tasks to the restoration: cleaning/repainting, and making the three-phase motor work.
Cleaning and Painting
I started the cleaning process by removing all attachments that I could, including the wheel shroud side covers, the wheels themselves, and all electrical boxes and covers. I remove all of the old flaking paint and minor rust spots using a wire wheel brush on the electric drill. Some of the paint was still good, but much of it was stripped down to the bare metal. I could not remove the riveted-on motor label and didn’t want to paint the wheel axles, so I covered them with masking tape.
I spray painted the entire grinder and all the separate parts with primer for a good base coat. I followed it with a few coats of grey paint.
I cleaned up the hardware to make it look a little nicer. I filed and sanded the heads of the screws and bolts while spinning them in the drill press. I buffed all of them with a cloth wheel, which made them nice and shiny. I finished it with some clear spray varnish.
I reassembled all the pieces, back in the order they came off.
Originally this grinder was hard-wired to the wall using “BX”-style flex conduit. There was a power relay and circuit breaker box, which engaged and disconnected all three phases in sync, using start and stop push buttons.
For the 3-phase power, I built a
static phase converter using capacitors.
I rewired the relay box to supply single phase power to the phase converter. I attached it to the pedestal stand of the grinder. I drilled holes in the pedestal and tapped screw threads into them, and screwed the relay box in place. Instead of flex conduit for the power line, I added a standard power cord. Since it uses 240 volts, double the US standard, I used a different plug and outlet.
The phase converter needs an extra momentary push button to start the motor, so I added that to the front of the grinder next to the main on-off switch.
I received a Baldor metal grinder with 10-inch wheels, with a motor wired for three-phase industrial power. Three-phase power is not provided in U.S. residential homes, so I needed to power it from normal single-phase power. My solution was to build a balanced static phase converter, requiring only a few relatively inexpensive capacitors. (Much less expensive than the nuclear reactor I was considering.)
I knew I had some homework to do, to figure out how to make this work. I had ignored much information on 3-phase motors in the past, thinking that I would likely never need it. When would I ever come across any 3-phase equipment that would fit my miserly budget? Well, now, it seems.
The first resource I turned to was Electric Motors in the Home Workshop by Jim Cox, my favorite book on the subject. This book is written specifically to address reusing various industrial and appliance motors for home-built tools and uses, which fits my crazy schemes. It covered the basics of 3-phase motors, but did not go into great details. It did describe a very common method of generating 3-phase power from single phase, which is called a rotary phase converter. In this method, you use a single-phase motor to mechanically drive a 3-phase “idler motor” which generates the other 2 phases. This is a robust and flexible method which can handle multiple varying 3-phase loads. It also takes up some room, and requires two large electric motors dedicated to it. If you had a variety of 3-phase motors to run, it is a good solution. But it seemed like overkill for just my one grinder.
I did some more Internet searching, and came across another idea: the static phase converter. This is a very simple converter which uses capacitors matched to the amperage draw of the motor to generate the extra two phases. As long as your amperage draw does not vary much (meaning you can only really use it for one motor), this is a simple and inexpensive solution to the problem.
I found the best explanation and description in Rick Christopherson’s page on building a balanced static phase converter. I used his guidelines to determine the likely capacitor values I would need for my converter.
There are two run capacitors for the extra two phases. The two capacitors create pulses 120 and 240 degrees out of phase with the primary, so the second capacitor is twice the size of the first. Based on his tables, I guessed that my motor would require about 6 uF and 12 uF for the two phases.
I went to a local surplus store, and was able to find smaller capacitors of 2.2 uF. My electricity textbook said that capacitors can be combined in parallel to add them up, so I just combined 3 for one phase and 6 for the other, providing 6.6 uF and 13.2 uF.
Just putting the run capacitors in the circuit would get it to run, but it would not start from a stand-still. With my dad helping me, we were able to spin the motor axle with a rope to get it started, and then turn on the power to make it continue running. It worked! I checked the power draw of all 3 phases with an inductive ammeter, and they were all nearly identical within 0.2 amps of each other.
To bring the motor up to speed under power, it needs a large starting capacitor, connected in with a momentary push button. They are readily available, sold simply as A/C start capacitors. I had a capacitor from an old washing machine motor, which worked to start it as a test. I ordered another one of 86 uF from an Internet mail-order surplus place. Holding the start button for about 3 or 4 seconds is all that is needed to bring the motor up to full speed.
Figuring out the capacitor schematic and values was the hard part. The rest of the construction was relatively simple. The grinder already came with a large magnetic relay contact switch and circuit breaker, previously wall-mounted separately. I attached it to the back side of the pedestal stand, and put the push-button on/off switch on the front. I added two new electrical boxes: one on the front for the momentary start push button, and one on the back to hold the capacitors.
Since the voltage is double at 240v, I needed a different plug and outlet. But the amperage is low at 5 amps, so did not need a large super-heavy-duty power cord and plug like one might use with an electric clothes dryer or kitchen stove. I found a plug and outlet the same size as a standard US power plug, but with both prongs rotated at 90 degrees from standard, so neither side could be accidentally interchanged with a normal plug. Since the total amperage draw is only 5 amps, a 14-gauge power cord was adequate.
I created some labels using Inkscape, printed them on photo paper, and attached them to the various boxes.
The end result was very satisfying. The motor only takes about 4 seconds to spin up to speed, and the grinder works great.
The handle broke off my manual lawn aerator. It had been welded in place, and since I have an arc welder, I figured I should weld it back on. This was the first time I attempted to arc weld something with a real purpose to it. There were a few details to work out, such as the fact that I don’t know if the welder works right, and I don’t know if my welding rods are any good, and what was the other one? Oh yeah, I don’t know how to arc weld. Well OK then, time to get started.
Actually, I do know the arc welder works, at least nominally. I got the arc welder from my friend Tim when he got a better one. It is your typical “stick” AC arc welder, with no fancy features. He used it at least once. I think. It’s a solidly-built big old monster with a giant transformer inside and a hand crank to turn the amperage up or down. The amperage indicator needle was missing; I replaced it but don’t know how close it reads to reality. My dad helped me make a few practice welds with it last year, so someone who knows what they are doing should be able to make it work. Ahem.
I got the welding rods from my dad, who had a bunch of these sticks left over from his previous job. I’ve heard you have to keep them dry and in good condition for them to work right. They’ve been inside in a plastic bag to keep them dry, and they don’t look obviously bad to me. That’s pretty easy since I don’t know what a bad welding stick looks like.
Then there’s that knowing-what-you-are-doing part. I did some oxy-acetylene welding back in the dark ages, I mean the 1980’s, but not arc welding. So last year when I got this beast from Tim I figured I should learn a little and read up in I Can Do It All By Myself: My So-Big Book of Arc Welding or maybe it was called Introduction to Arc Welding, I forget which.
My dad bought me a cool welding helmet which automatically darkens in bright light and lightens again in normal light. If you don’t know what you are doing, it really helps if you can see it. I think.
I did read up on the safety stuff, and made sure to wear boots, long sleeves, and thicker denim jeans, along with proper welding gloves. Hot molten metal, no matter how small a splat, is not fun to feel. I also turned on a big box fan right next to the work, because these fumes stink! Oh, and they’re toxic too, I hear.
I put some protection around to keep the splattering metal from flying onto everything else. (Don’t weld over a pile of sawdust.) When I first tested the welder last year, we set up a shield using cement backer board, the kind you use as an under-surface for tile counters. This time I used some scraps of “HardieBacker”, which has cement in it but is a little more like sheetrock, so it is easier to cut and shape. Works great for a welding shield. And for laying tile, too.
So it was time to melt metal with fire using a blazing lightning bolt of electricity. Can you do anything cooler than that? Of course not. I figured I should do some practice welds on a piece of junk steel before mangling the lawn aerator. I grabbed some scraps from a discarded bed frame (awesome source of free angle iron) and set to work. I spent a long time getting the rod stuck to the piece, over and over, without getting an arc. Clearly I was not getting this arc thing figured out right.
I gave up after half an hour. Something wasn’t right. Either the welder was bad, the rods were bad, or I didn’t know what I was doing. Hmm. It could be any of the three, so I went into standard cheapskate troubleshooting mode: which of these variables can I improve or eliminate for almost no time or money? Buying another welder would not be cheap, unless I wanted to take forever, so that was out. Despite being the highest probability culprit, learning how to weld properly was not going to happen within the weekend, and would likely require known-good equipment, so that was out too.
Fortunately, a box of arc welding sticks was only ten dollars at the big orange home improvement store, and they were open. With new rods in hand (or rather a new one in the electrode holder), I had an arc and an acceptable weld on my test piece within a few minutes. The new rods were smaller than the ones I already had, and the box had a recommended amperage range for them which worked fairly well. That makes me think that the old rods may not have been bad; I just may have been using them with the wrong amperage setting. There’s that know-what-you’re-doing thing again; curses!
I cleaned up the broken parts of the lawn aerator on the grinding wheel to make a clean face and bevel the edges. After all the prior drama, it actually welded pretty easily. I also added a steel bracket to the joint, to reinforce it. I don’t know whether my new weld in the joint itself is a strong as the original factory weld (probably not), but I expect that the new bracket makes the whole thing stronger than before.
Once it was welded, I cleaned it up with the grinder and a wire-wheel brush on the electric drill. Success. I finished aerating the lawn, and it worked just fine. I melted metal using a white-hot electric arc, and I did it without burning down the house or injuring myself. You can’t beat that.
When I fixed up an old drill press, I found that the switch plate for the on/off switch was fairly worn. The original paint and lettering was worn away, so that the start/stop wording was almost unreadable. Even though I am clever enough to figure out that the big red button means “stop”, it needed a clearly readable switch plate label.
The basic process is fairly simple:
Photograph or scan the original label
Edit the picture on the computer using free software
Print the new picture on glossy photo paper
Trim label and cut out holes
Place over original label and cover with clear packing tape
For those of you who need more details (or just can’t get enough of my snarky comments), read on for more.
Photograph or scan the original label
First you need an accurate picture of the original label. You can take a close-up photo with a digital camera. Take the picture directly above the label, as perpendicular as possible to the label surface. Holding the camera farther away and zooming in with the lens may work better than holding the camera up close. Try several shots and see which comes out the best. You’ll want the clearest picture you can get, with no glare or shadows. Unless you want those in the final label for that artsy look; I didn’t.
If the label is flat, you’ll probably get better results using a flat-bed scanner. I tried it with the drill press switch plate, but it didn’t work. The label is riveted to a switch plate, with prongs that stick up on each side of the start button to guard the button from accidentally being pressed. They moved the label too far from the surface of the scanner, putting it out of focus. Darn safety features. Oops, I mean, hey, good thing for those safety features, huh?
Make sure you get a good picture before doing too much cleaning on the original label. I did, but only because I was lucky. I mean, good thing I planned it that way. After I took the picture, I thought it would be a good idea to clean off the dirt, grease and oil from the label plate. I soaked it in citrus cleaner, and it cleaned it all right. It removed nearly all of the rest of the paint right off the label plate. Ooops.
Edit with free software
Once you have the picture, it’s time to edit it. You’ll need some graphics software for that. I like using free, open source software, because I dislike the Evil Empire to the North in Redmond and their predatory strangle-hold on the computing industry, and I support freedom with liberty and justice for all. Oh yeah, and I’m a cheap tightwad too. I mean frugal.
For photo editing, my tool of choice is the GIMP. It does nearly everything the big expensive commercial programs do, like that well-known one that everybody pirates at home. I also use Inkscape for drawings. Both GIMP and Inkscape are freely available on Mac, Linux, and that other operating system I have to use at work because the man says so.
The first thing to do is crop the picture and straighten it out. It is easiest to rotate it first so that you have straight horizontal and vertical edges, and then crop it.
Now you need to touch it up. That was the whole point of this, remember? This is where I use the “layers” feature in GIMP. I put the original photo in the bottom layer, and then create a new layer or two for the changes. That way I can easily switch back and forth between the original view and the new retouched result and admire the improvement. I have a fragile ego and I need that constant affirmation, you know.
I did not completely restore and refinish this drill press, so I thought it would be interesting to leave a little of the original character of it in the new label. The switch plate was pretty scratched and worn from years of use. It is quite easy in the software to use the orange color of the label body and draw shapes to completely cover those sections, masking all of the original scratches and character. But with one little adjustment, the new section can be made partially transparent. The parts of the old label which were still orange in good condition will look the same. The parts that were scratched and worn will show through just a little bit, in a subtle way. (So much for not wanting that artsy look. Hey, it’s my project, OK? OK.)
The remaining part is the lettering. I used another layer in GIMP for the lettering, to place it on top of the orange mask layer. The “START” and “STOP” wording is easy enough, but the manufacturer name presented a difficulty as it curved along a smooth arc.
There may be a way to fit text along an arc and easily adjust it to line up properly in the GIMP, but I couldn’t find it. So instead I used Inkscape. Inkscape has feature exactly for that, fitting text along a path. It also has easy adjustments for the height, width, and spacing of text, to line up exactly with the original.
I loaded the photo into Inkscape, and drew a curved path along the base of the original lettering. Then I put in new text along the path, and lined it up on top of the original to match. Once I put all of the text for the label in place, I deleted the photo, leaving just the new text, and I saved it as a PNG bitmap image.
I brought the text bitmap image into the GIMP and put it into the top layer. This gave me a stack of three layers: new text, semi-transparent orange paint, and original photo. The editing was done.
At this point some smart guy will tell me how I could have saved myself a lot of work with only $600 worth of software. That’s probably true. Why, I could even pay for it by turning in 12000 soda cans for their deposit and come out even. Or perhaps not. I’ll stick with the free software.
Print the new label
Next I needed to print the new label at exactly the right size. (I’m skipping the surrealism at this point and just going for the realistic look.)
Both GIMP and Inkscape allow you to measure things on the screen in your choice of units, such as pixels, inches or millimeters. This makes it easier to get your image to print out at exactly the right size. Easier, but not foolproof. I’m a better fool than they expected.
For some reason, I could not get the size quite right. When I printed it out, the height was correct but the width was slightly too narrow. The easiest solution was to save a copy of the whole layered image as a new PNG bitmap image, and then play around with scaling that image. When I widened it by about 4%, it came out perfect. A little extra work, but good results. Of course, if only I had those 12000 soda cans, I could have skipped this part.
I printed the label on glossy 4-inch by 6-inch photo paper on an inkjet printer. Since digital cameras and photo printing have become so popular, it is quite easy and inexpensive to get excellent prints. No more waiting like Snow White (“Some day, my prints will come….” Ouch.)
Cut out the new label
This is the easy part. Once it was printed at the right size, I simply cut the margins off the label and cut out the button holes. You certainly can use scissors, but I used a sharp utility knife and a straightedge for nice clean lines. On the straight parts, anyways. Not the circles.
There were several holes to cut for this label: the main holes for the start and stop buttons, the slots for the start button guard prongs, and the two small holes for the mounting screws. I did the big ones with the knife and did the screw holes with a punch, the kind that is a sharp-ended tube which you smack with a hammer. Ouch, not again! I said smack the punch, not my thumb!
Place over original label
If you have lived through the previous part, now you are ready to put the label in place. Finally.
My preferred method is just to tape it down with clear packing tape. It protects the surface of the print from getting smudged, and can be peeled off if needed. Pull out a length of packing tape longer than you need, and place the middle of it over the middle of the label. Press it down and smooth it out, starting in the middle and smoothing outward toward the edges. Tiny bubbles are great for Hawaiian music, but not for your label. Then place the label and tape onto the surface where it goes. Cut the excess tape off, smooth it down, and step back and admire your work.
In this case, since this label was part of a switch plate, I taped the label to the plate and then screwed the plate to the machine, so that the plate screws also held the label on. Be careful when tightening the screws; if you overdo it you will twist up the packing tape or maybe even the label. If you do that, all is lost! You can’t just go back and reprint another one! Oh wait, yes you can. Nevermind. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.
This method worked so well for my drill press that I have been using it for other projects also, such as my grinder. I hope you give it a try, and have fun.
My new grinder needed some task lighting for the grinding wheels. I decided to build a dedicated lamp for each side, controlled by the grinder power switch. This worked in perfectly with my latest obsession, I mean interest, which is LED lighting.
My first obstacle was the fact that the grinder runs of 240 volts, which is double the standard voltage in the US. My 20 amp power outlet and cord only provided the straight 240 volts; no neutral center tap was available to get 120v. For the LEDs, I needed a power supply which could accept 240v.
Fortunately, I had a couple of discarded laptop power supplies which would accept 240v, thanks to their international design. I used an HP Omnibook power supply which produces 19v DC output.
I bent some scrap sheet metal from an old VCR case into a small bracket that just fit the power supply, and painted the power supply and bracket both grey to match the grinder. I attached it to the back of the grinder in a convenient spot.
I ran the input power cord from the power supply down the side of the grinder stand, and attached it to the main power output terminals inside the relay box.
For the lamps, I made flexible necks by coiling solid copper wire around a rod. I left the insulation on the wire, and spray-painted it black using vinyl dye from the auto parts store. I ran the 19v output wire from the power supply up through the middle of the coil. The lamp shades at the end are PVC pipe caps from the hardware store, spray-painted silver.
Inside the PVC cap lamp shades are the LED arrays. Since white LEDs typically use around 3.3 to 3.5 volts, the 19 volts from power supply should be perfect to drive 5 LEDs in series, with a little left over for a current-limiting resistor. I measured the output of the power supply with my meter, and found that it actually produced 19.5 volts.
I used the LED resistor calculator to find that I would need a resistor of around 100 ohms in series with the LEDs. I wired up the 5 LEDs and the 100 ohm resistor in series, and tried it out with the power supply. They lit up nice and bright.
LEDs need to have the current limited externally, typically by a resistor as mentioned, and the average LED needs 20 milliamps. I measured the amperage in my circuit using my multimeter, and found that the actual current draw was 30 milliamps. While it might be fine, I decided to be a little more conservative and stick to the advised 20 milliamps.
The five LEDs were actually dropping 3.3 volts each, leaving 3 volts going through the resistor. 3 volts through the resistor at 100 ohms makes 30 milliamps. To reduce it to 20 milliamps, I changed the resistor to 150 ohms. Another check with the meter showed 20 milliamps as expected.
With that determined, I soldered the 5 LEDs and resistor to the ends of the 19v power wires sticking through the PVC cap. After wrapping the leads with electrical tape, I stuffed the LED array into the cap and pulled the slack out of the wire.
I used a few zip ties to secure the wires, and with that, I was done. Starting the grinder turned on the lights. With the copper wire neck, I can bend it to point the light at whatever angle is best on the grinding wheel. It didn’t take too long, and produces a decent light. I might just have to do this to all my tools.
Any trained machinist will tell you that a drill press with a cheap jig is no substitute for a proper lathe. I’m not a trained machinist, so now that I’ve said that, let’s get on to accomplishing something interesting.
I recently saw an idea for using a drill press as a simple vertical lathe. If you make a “live center” and attach it to the drill press table, you can do some basic wood turning in a vertical position. A live center is a pointed shaft on a bearing, which rotates with the work being turned on the lathe.
This is not a new idea. One has been sold commercially for years as the Vertilathe, and Grizzly sells a lathe attachment for a drill press also. It has shown up in several books, including “200 Original Shop Aids & Jigs for Woodworkers” by Rosario Capotosto, “New Wood Puzzle Designs” by James Follette, and “Eccentric Cubicle” by Kaden Harris.
Needless to say, I had to try it out. If you want to make one like me (which of course you don’t because such endeavors are both tedious and hazardous), you might (or might not) do it as follows:
Acquire a bicycle wheel. This will be found rusting next to the apartment dumpster, or perhaps readily retrieved from the neighbor’s garbage can. Do not take the wheel off your neighbor’s working bicycle; they will frown upon this. Make sure you grab the cheap wheel with nuts that hold it on a solid axle, not the one with the cool and coveted lever clamp through a hollow axle. (Actually, snag that one too, but keep it for later.)
Remove the spokes from the hub. If you got the rusty one from next to the dumpster, you’re in luck because half the spokes will snap right off quite easily. If you are impatient and/or feeling destructive, use some heavy wire cutters to clip the remaining spokes. If you are feeling a little more retentive, remove the tire and unscrew the nuts holding the spokes to the rim. Toss the spokes and rim into the nearest metal recycling bin. We don’t need them for this project. If we need some for another project later, well there’s no shortage of rusty bicycle wheels in the world, now is there?
Disassemble the hub and axle. Unscrew the nuts on each end of the axle. You should find that both ends simply unscrew, and that the axle is just one long threaded rod. Behind the nuts there should be some ball bearings. Take it all apart and soak it with your favorite rust remover, such as WD40. Don’t use water; it isn’t a good rust remover.
Clean the parts. Use a rotating wire wheel to remove the rust from the hub, axle, and nuts. Chuck the wire wheel into the drill press and start cleaning the parts. You do have a drill press, right? This lathe jig isn’t going to work with a hand drill. And don’t accidentally clean your fingers with the wire wheel; it hurts. Don’t ask how I know.
Put a point on the axle. Use a grinder or file to make a rough point on one end of the axle. Then chuck the axle into the drill press and use a file to make it nice and pretty. And centered. That’s more important than the pretty part. Mostly.
Grease and reassemble. Load up the bearings with grease and reassemble the hub. Just like those Brady boys on TV, working on their bikes instead of riding them. OK, I never actually saw them reassemble a hub on one of their bikes. In fact, while they appeared to be working on their bikes, I don’t think I ever saw them actually fix anything. Hmmm.
Once you have done all this, you will have a rather hazardous-looking sharp pointy bolt that rotates. My wife says it looks like something Speed Racer would have coming out of the side of the Mach 5, so he could pop the tires of the other cars in the Grand Prix. Why were all the races always called the Grand Prix? Aggh, stupid TV. Where was I?
Now we need to hold it to the drill press table.
Cut a piece of wood to size. Make it fit the size of your drill press table, so you can clamp it or bolt it down. (This is where those cool bike axles with the lever clamp come in, if you were lucky enough to find some.)
Drill a hole in the center. Make it large enough to fit the other end of the axle, which will stick through the wood and drill press table. We want the axle to rotate freely, and not bind against the wood. That would defeat the whole purpose of those fancy ball bearings in the hub, now wouldn’t it?
Paint the wood to look official. Perhaps a nice gloss grey, just like they would do in the Navy when using a piece of wood and an old bike wheel to make a lathe out of a drill press. Ahem.
Screw the hub to the wood. OK, the real part you were waiting for. Put some screws through a couple of those little spoke holes in the hub to secure it to your fancy-pants painted board. Make sure the screws don’t go all the way through the wood and scratch up your nice drill press table.
Congratulations! You have built yourself a live center. You have now completed half of the project. You’re in good company, because I’ve only completed this much also. I’m too impatient to wait, so let’s see some results now.
Line up the live center on the drill press table directly beneath the chuck, and clamp it down to the table. Put a wood screw into the top of your piece of wood and chuck up the screw, or chuck up a Forstner drill bit to press into the end of the wood. Raise the table or lower and lock the chuck to hold the wood firmly between the chuck and the live center. Now you can spin the wood. Give it a short spin, then tighten the gap again after the live center presses into the bottom of the piece.
Spinning wood is fun, but shaping it is even more fun. We are only half done, because we don’t have a tool rest to use for any carving tools. But I can’t wait that long, so we can use a wood rasp and files for some quick wood turning results.
This is the point where you go read up on safety somewhere. Holding a jaggedy rasp against a spinning piece of wood is a recipe for having a tool thrown at a vulnerable spot on your person, or some other such hazard. Seriously, be careful with this stuff.
Having said that, the rasp and files actually work nicely. Using combinations of straight, half-round, and rat-tail files, you can actually produce a moderately interesting piece of turned wood with this little jig.
Experienced people tell me that you should always get the best tools you can buy, because there is no substitute for the proper tool for a job. Don’t be fooled into buying cheap tools, because you will be disappointed when the tool doesn’t provide precision results or it breaks down on you.
I agree that in home improvement, woodworking, metal working, and other pursuits, it is always important to have the proper tool for the job. But what is the proper tool for the job, and how much should you spend on it?
I’ll share my thoughts on how, why, and when you might want to spend less on tools.
Investing Your Money
Everyone agrees that investing your money is wise. But there are multiple ways to invest money, and this applies with tools also.
Spending money on high-quality tools is an investment. The money you spend will save you time and hassle; it is an investment in productivity. If you just want to get a job done, buy a good tool and get on with it.
But spending money on cheap tools can be an investment also. If you are like me and have a short attention span, ahem, I mean a broad variety of interests, there are many repairs, activities, and hobbies you might like to try. If you buy the best tool available for each one, you may spend a fortune on equipment that you rarely use. Buying a cheap tool can be an investment in your education, allowing you to try out many things that you could not otherwise afford. Once you have tried things out and know what you are likely to pursue further, and have a better idea of what features in a tool matter to you, then you can spend more money on selected better tools.
Cheap Retail Tools
Modern manufacturing has brought the ability to mass produce complex items at incredibly low costs. Today, Asia is the low-cost manufacturing powerhouse. The U.S. is hard pressed to compete with overseas manufacturing.
Harbor Freight Tools is a nationwide chain of stores in the U.S., selling primarily Asian import power tools and hand tools. While they are not top-quality and most won’t stand up to heavy use, they are incredibly inexpensive. I signed up for their email mailing list where they send weekly advertisements and coupons, and have gotten some excellent deals. They send out 15% off coupons on a regular basis, which are even good on sale items. I bought a bench-top drill press for $35. A drill press like this might typically sell for $80 to $100 in most stores. Harbor Freight normally sells it for $70. It was on sale for $40, and I had a 15% off coupon, and they have a store within driving distance so I didn’t have to pay shipping. Getting deals this cheap requires some patience, waiting for sales to come up and keeping track of the coupons. But in this case it was worth it.
For higher-quality large power tools, Grizzly Industrial imports power tools built in Taiwan. Better quality but still good prices.
The other way to get good tools inexpensively is to buy them used. Most American power tools built in the last century were made to last and will keep on running, given some cleanup and care.
I bought a tablesaw at a local estate sale for about $20. A comparable saw at the store would probably cost about $100 or more. Mine is fairly solid, and I got the advantage of the previous owner’s upgraded motor. It took some cleanup but mostly worked fine immediately.
I certainly like the satisfaction of taking an old piece of equipment with some history and personality, and adding some more life back into it with some cleaning, oiling, and perhaps a little paint. There is too much waste in our society in my opinion. Just as I get satisfaction from using tools to fix things, I enjoy fixing the tools also.
One thing to watch out for if the tools are more than a few decades old is the safety features, or lack thereof. I added some guards on to my tablesaw, and you’ll want to watch for similar situations with older power tools.
At some point you have to make the decision on when to buy a more expensive tool. This is a personal judgment call, which needs to fit in with your values of time and money.
I bought a cheap heat gun from Harbor Freight for $10. I had not owned one before, so I didn’t know how much I would use it. I ended up using it a lot. I burned it out, bought another one for $10, and ended up breaking that one also. By that point I knew this was a useful tool to me, so I went to another store and bought a better one for $30. It has performed great and I expect it will last a long time. Was this a waste? I don’t think so. I spent $50 altogether and ended up with a good tool that will last. If I hadn’t shopped around, I might have spent that much anyways. I balance this against all the other expensive tools I didn’t buy for occasional use, and I have definitely saved money.
Some people like to buy expensive tools because they see them as a status symbol, for showing off. I don’t think tools (or other material items for that matter) should be used in this way, but the reality is that our posessions do reflect something of our values to other people. Therefore, I like to reflect the values of not wasting money and being creative with less. Using an inexpensive tool to get the job done, or better yet fixing up an old tool to do it, is quite satisfying to me, and I hope it inspires others to do the same.
Many woodworkers have dust collection systems, which use suction and large pipes and hoses to collect sawdust and other particles from power tools. For the hobbyist, these systems can be affordable, below $1000 for a decent system. Naturally, I therefore wondered what I could accomplish with my old shop vacuum, some junk from the garbage can, and about 20 bucks.
The basic premise is to collect sawdust, trimmings, and other particles as close to the source of production as possible. Many power tools come with dust collection ports built in to them these days. My 1950s PowrKraft table saw did not, so I set out to create a dust collector for it.
My tablesaw was not designed for vacuum collection of sawdust, so it has quite a few openings which needed to be covered. The underside of the saw is open, with a sheet-metal rim around the inside. This made a good place to attach a collection hood. I fabricated one from a rectangular plastic bucket made from HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic, the most common type used in common buckets and consumer packaging.
Since the bucket had a hinged snap-on lid, I turned the bucket upside down and used the lid as the bottom of the dust hood. The lid then became an access door to the underside of the saw. I used the heat gun to bend the sides of the bucket and weld on extra corner tabs, creating flanges to sit on the rim of the saw opening.
For the dust-collection tubing, I took the cheap route. I used 3-inch water drainage tubing and 1.5-inch sump pump tubing, both from the local home improvement warehouse store.
Neither one of the tubing sizes I used matches the hose of my shop vac at 2.5 inches, so I needed some adaptors. Several different plastic jars from peanut butter and applesauce turned out to be very close to the correct size. The opening on the applesauce jar was just a little too small, so I made a spreader jig with some wooden wedges between some nuts and washers. When one of the nuts is tightened, the washers squeeze the wedges, forcing them outward. I wrapped the wooden wedges in a piece of sheet metal from a tin vegetable can, and placed the mouth of the jar over it. By softening the jar mouth with the heat gun, and tightening the nut, I was able to expand the jar to fit the vacuum hose just right. I attached the 3-inch tubing to a hole I cut in the bottom of the jar on the other end, making a nice hose adaptor.
I put two dust collection points into the tablesaw collector: the large main 3-inch hose in the collector hood, and a second 1.5-inch hose to pick up stray sawdust from the top of the table. I attached them together with a Y-connection made from a plastic peanut butter jar. The 1.5-inch hose came out of the side of the jar, but I heated and warped the jar to make a Y connector for better airflow through the smaller hose.
The first time I turned on the shop vacuum with this setup, I got a big surprise. In addition to the usual loud shop vac whine, I got an additional loud piercing whistle noise from the 1.5-inch hose. Some Internet research told me this was a “standing wave” harmonic vibration, caused by the uniform ridges in the hose. The factory did an accurate job of creating all of the ridges in the hose the same. When air passes through the hose, the ridges cause the air to vibrate at the same frequency all along the hose, causing a single tone to come out. It’s one big whistle.
Ironically, my web search efforts revealed much about how to produce such a noise, but not how to surpress it. However, some thought and experimentation led to a simple answer: If the uniform ridges make the whistling noise, making them non-uniform should eliminate it. I heated the hose with the heat gun, and stretched it by different amounts at different points along the hose. It didn’t take much stretching to disrupt the harmonic effect, eliminating the shriek and producing quieter air flow.
I use the tablesaw to cut both wood and plastic at different times. I want to keep the two separated so the wood sawdust can be used for composting, without being contaminated by plastic pieces.
I made a pre-separator to collect the wood sawdust using a 5-gallon paint bucket. The separator bucket sits between the tablesaw and the shop vac. Scraps and larger sawdust particles settle to the bottom of the bucket, while the air and fine dust pass through to the vacuum. It is patterened after professional cyclone separators, where the incoming airflow is directed towards the side of the cylinder and the air exit is in the center. As the particles are blown towards the sides, they lose velocity and swirl down to the bottom.
There are just a few parts to the separator. The vacuum port (air exit) has a tube going down the center of the cylinder, which I made from a clear plastic applesauce jar with a mouth sized to the 2.5-inch vacuum hose, screwed into the bucket lid . The intake port goes to a deflector which sends the air towards the inside wall of the bucket. The intake port is a snap-on connector for the drain tubing, and the deflector is a scrap of plastic. Since the tube connector, deflector, and bucket lid are all HDPE plastic, I welded them together with the heat gun. I also cut a window into the side of the bucket, to indicate how full it is.
Now when I cut wood, I plug the vacuum in to the separator, and my wood cuttings are collected in the bucket. If I want to cut plastic, I bypass the separator and suck the plastic scraps right into the shop vac.
Airborne dust filter
To reduce airborne free-floating dust, I employed a trick which I saw recently in a home improvement magazine. I took a normal household box fan, and attached a furnace filter onto the intake side of the fan. I took the plastic grill off the intake side of the fan and reattached it with spacers and longer screws, allowing me to simply slide the furnace filter into the slot. It works quite effectively, producing a nice brown circle on the filter in no time at all. This is good, showing dust that is not getting inhaled or settling on everything else.