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MPCNC Pen holder

MPCNC Pen holder

MPCNC Pen holder

I’ve recently finished up the construction of the fantastic Mostly Printed CNC.  It looks like it will be a very useful tool and a good compliment to the other tools in my shop.

To test it out, as well as to make up large templates, I wanted a good pen holder.  I started out with a MPCNC sharpie holder, and it works great, but the sharpie itself leaves a pretty wide line.  To have the greatest amount of flexibility I designed and printed an adapter that allows a Papermate 1.0 pen to be used in place of the sharpie.

3D printed pen holder in sharpie holder beside pen and spring

3D printed pen holder in sharpie holder beside pen and spring

The STL files are offered both as a single unit as well as one that is split if your printer is height challenged.  In the latter case use some crazy glue to bond the two pieces together and clean the bore up with sandpaper.  I also used a bit of 1/4″ threaded rod to quickly remove any glue flash from the bore of the penholder.

How does it work?  Wonderfully.  The accuracy is spot on – even going over lines already drawn, which is what you’d expect, but when I used a shorter pen holder there was a bit of wobble.  The longer unit works out great as can be seen in the picture.

Now, the one thing this doesn’t do is hold the pen up when the holder is retracted – that means there will be a pen line that follows the tool path. If that is ok for your intended use this is a great bit of kit to add to the MPCNC.

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Homemade Christmas Candy Boxes – The Christmas Tree

Letterpress Christmas Candy Box

The three stages, 1. Print, 2. Cut and Score, 3. Glue to finish

For the last several Christmases we’ve gotten a bit creative with our letterpresses – first the kids have to do their own lino-cut suitable printing block for our Christmas cards, and secondly I design, carve and print up a box to hold the homemade candy we’ll give to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

I find the box making to be a fun and creative process that also makes the homemade candy stand out – or at least I think so!

Christmas Tree Candy Box Template

Christmas Tree Candy Box Template

So this year I came up with a Christmas tree design box.  It actually just fits on a 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper – so tight that the upper flap has the corners missing – but since it gets stapled closed that doesn’t really detract from it – and I wanted the maximum volume for the candy – so it seems a fair trade off.

While you might not have a letterpress you can produce these boxes for yourself.  Download the image and print it out on cardstock.  As a heavier weight it works well for making these boxes, regular printer paper is OK for demos but won’t stand up when filled.

Cut out around the external solid line and then score along the internal solid lines in order to allow for easy bending.  Fold and glue the tabs to the back of the tree sides and your box is complete and ready to be filled.

Have fun and some great holidays.

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DIY Conical Build Pt 1 The Materials

The foundation material for the conical needs to be stainless steel in order to keep the vessel from rusting.  Now for grade of stainless – something like 304 or 18/8 which is used for stainless pots and buckets should be just fine and is fairly common.  With that determined what options exist for us to get that material at reasonable cost.  Well, free is obviously best, but since I used up much of my pile of salvaged stainless steel sheets (mainly BBQs) building the wood fired pizza oven I don’t have much of that left.

Then there’s the buy option, and actually as I am going forward I find myself buying some stainless material for the legs – but now that I consider it I could have gotten away without making that purchase, but more on that once we get to that stage of the build…

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Anyway back to the fundamental parts of the conical – the vertical segment and the cone.  Well since the top is basically like a pot without a base I thought I might as well go that route and build it out of stainless steel pots which are readily available and low cost.  As an added bonus the top segment is already nicely rolled and sealed.

Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since I couldn’t find one easily and at low cost I figured I would just form one up from some more stainless steel sheet (or pot bits).  It’s more welding but I kinda want the practice to improve my skills so really not all that bad.  Plus as indicated before – by brewing in the conical with the associated 90 minute boil I would be able to achieve excellent sanitation even where weld imperfections might otherwise thwart chemical cleaning.

Now for the disadvantages… well these pots are pretty thin – definitely thick enough to do the job without problem but thinner material is often more difficult to weld effectively. Still cost and availability prompted me to consider this my best option – especially since I was reasonably sure that I would be able to handle the welding of the think stainless with the Henrob OA torch based on my experience with the stainless pizza oven.

The price – well a pot set from Harbor Freight where the largest pot is 4 gallons cost me $20 and and a 5 gallon pot at the local homestore cost me another $20.  Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since

Now for the cool part right – the triclamp fittings that make the conical so versatile.  Well, these are available at low cost off ebay or amazon from manufacturers in China.  How low cost is low cost?  Well a 1.5″ weld-on tricalmp fitting runs $1.99 with free shipping!  So I purchased a bunch of 1.5″ fittings, gaskets, caps, threaded fittings, valves and the like along with a few 2″ fittings to allow me to pass the electrical heating element into the conical.

Total cost for the bits and bobs… slightly over a hundred bucks.  Not bad for a prototype.

 

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Building the Reitveld Deck Chair

Rietveld chairs on Swarthmore Campus

Rietveld chairs on Swarthmore Campus

My family fell in love with Reitveld chairs while my brother and his family were living in Swarthmore in Philly.  They were literally a block away from the wonderful Swarthmore College campus which features an exceptional arboretum and an entire campus filled with both beautiful and cool trees and plants.  It also features numerous cedar Reitveld chairs scattered around the campus which being in left in natural finish don’t stand out nearly as much as their collection of aderondac/mascoka chairs – including a giant one – on their main lawn.  But, while not as flashy as their aderondac cousins the Reitveld chairs are incredibly seductive once you allow your body to settle into the contours.  It just works with the human body – big or small, male or female it feel awesome.  It practically begs to have you settle down with a beverage – coffee, wine, beer or maybe a homemade soda – but certainly not a superficial store bought soda – and a book or in a circle of friends for reflecting or lively discussion.

Yet in-spite of how wonderfully this chair fits it is a wonderfully simple design – and that makes it a comparatively easy project to undertake and build.  That’s just what I did – that siren sound to the body was too much to resist!  Follow along over the next couple of posts and I’ll share with you how easy it is to build.

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Building a Grain Mill – Easy as Pie

Build a grain mill

Build a grain mill

As easy as pie – just a bit longer to realize the result.  Seriously. Really.  You just need the right tools (which are reasonably priced) and to gain some insight into how to pull everything together with smart techniques.

Not really much different than baking a pie – and there are lots of folks who are seriously intimidated by the thought of pulling together a great pie crust and that perfect filling.

But, that’s why cookbooks and cooking shows are so popular – they provide both guidance and the insight into the techniques needed to effectively convert the ingredients into the finished product.  Once you’ve done it once that initial hurdle of getting those techniques down is breached and going from making an apple pie to a peach torte is comparatively a breeze.  That’s no different with metal working – get a handle on how to pull one project off and you’ll be well on your way to having the skills and confidence to pull off much more complex projects.

In terms of how high that bar to entry is – with modern power tools it really isn’t much more difficult than baking that pie in a home oven.  Wire feed welders are not only easy to master but also low cost – as I write this Harbor Freight has their welders on for $110 for the smaller unit to $180 for the midsized one that I adore.  Their angle grinders start at $20 for a 4 1/2″ “heavy duty” one that will do for the work you have to carry out on the project to $45 for a versatile 7″ unit all the way to $65 for a top of the line 9″ unit – but those prices are all before you apply the 20% off coupons that always seem to be floating around.  Another $20 will get you the needed drill.

Homebuilt Grain Mill, Tortilla Press and the required tools

Homebuilt Grain Mill, Tortilla Press and the required tools

Add in the consumables and hand tools and even if you are starting your shop from scratch you’ll be able to buy the tools and the materials needed for the grain mill build and have money left over compared to buying a comparable mill with 6″ diameter burrs.

Now the economics of building your own tortilla press isn’t nearly as compelling – but if you’ve got the tools… well then building it is a breeze.

Of course, the prime advantage in my opinion isn’t the grain mill, or the tortilla press, ore even the nicely equipped shop – but the change in perspective that you’ll gain once you’ve seen how achievable these metal working projects are.  That shift will see you empower your independence, and that

is really cool – especially with a slice of pie.

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DIY Folding Clothesline – Sturdier for a fraction of the price

004I’ve always liked hanging laundry out to dry – sure it’s a bit more work than tossing them in the dryer but it’s cheaper, the clothes last longer and they smell better.

When I moved into my current home a number of years ago there was no outside clothesline.  When I started examining the options I quickly dismissed both the long line and the square lines that sit in the middle of the lawn as too intrusive.  Instead I wanted a clothesline that could be bolted to the side of my garage and folded out of the way when not needed.

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Now there does exist such a creature – a few models in fact – but all of them are rather pricey and some looked downright delicate.  Delicate is a definite non-starter here, I wanted to be able to load it up with a few loads of laundry without worrying about the potential for collapse.

So, instead of buying I build and installed an alternative in an afternoon from materials I had on hand.  Over the past seven years it has served exceptionally well – especially considering its low cost and the little time needed to fabricate and install it.

The heart of the unit is a frame made from 1 1/2″ angle iron – in this case the material is actually from bedframes that folks have tossed out.  The frame is made up of two segments 7′ long and another two segments 3′ long.  The two three foot segments form the sides of the frame while one 7′ segment forms one end, and the other 7′ segment forms the other end – but is inset 4″ from the end of the 3′ sides. Welding the frame together is a quick and easy matter.

010

Measurement along the side of the frame for the folding clothesline

This frame is bolted at one end to the portions of the assembly that are bolted to the house.  These were made from some 3″ alumimum angle – but steel material could just as easily suffice.  If you have only narrower material that will work just fine, but you’ll want to install a wood spacer behind it to allow the clothes frame to pivot freely rather than bind against the house.

In my case I fixed 2×6 members to the wall since my studs didn’t line up with the spots for the placement of the fixed pieces.

You’ll need to loosely bolt the clothesline frame to the piece of angle that will be fixed to the house.  Another bolt or block needs to be secured at the lower end of the fixed piece of angle to hold up the free end of the arm that is bolted to the far end of the frame.

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

In my case this arm is 39 3/4″ long, but frankly this was established with all the other pieces in place and measuring the length of member needed to hold the frame level.

When everything is ready drill holes 4″ apart on the sides of the frame.  Then bolt everything in place and paint any steel pieces to protect against rust.  My preferred paint in this application is aluminum anti-rust paint.  It will last for several years and does a really effective job while also being cheap.

When the paint is dry thread your clothesline through the holes and get ready to hang your first load of laundry out.

If you don’t have a welder you can use angle iron to bolt the frame together, but if you look at the price of buying a commercial folding clothes line compared to the price of a wire feed welder from a place like Harbor Freight or Princess Auto it will become clear quickly that you can pay for the welder and needed safety kit on the basis of this project alone – and wire feed welders are exceptionally easy to use so don’t let that dissuade you. After this project I am sure you’ll start envisioning more potential projects for your new-found skills around your home or homestead.

 

 

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Homemade Penetrating Oil

I often work on rusty kit -so I always ensure my tetanus vaccination is always up to date, and I have penetrating oil on hand to help free rusted parts.

Homemade penetrating oil alongside commercial products and a can of white gas.

Homemade penetrating oil alongside commercial products and a can of white gas.

If the requirement is small or time sensitive I will generally use a commercial product.  The ones I make sure to keep on hand are lanolin (wool grease) based – because they are not only good penetrating oils, but because the lanolin is an excellent way to protect metal against rust without establishing a gummy surface that would require a lot of clean-up before the tool can be used.

But when I have bigger projects that require a lot of penetrating oil – such as the corn binder that I am rebuilding for sweet sorghum harvesting – I turn to homemade penetrating oil which costs a fraction of the commercial products, and while it may not work quite as quickly that price advantage is considerable.

Quite simply you want to use a light oil – that can be diesel – which I’ve used very successfully to free up stuck engines or a mix of a heavier oil – such as an engine or transmission oil – and a light solvent such as acetone, paint thinner or my favorite naphtha – also known as white gas or Coleman fuel.   All will work just fine but I keep naphtha on hand for my camping stoves and find that it doesn’t have the odor that acetone does.  Generally I add between 10 and 20 percent solvent to the oil depending upon the starting weight of the oil and how much I slop in (accuracy isn’t very important here in my experience).  Mix the two in a container and then use a regular oil can to dispense them.   Easy as can be and priced right.

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Essential Power Tools – The Wire Feed (MIG) Welder

A visit to the local Princess Auto store (roughly the Canadian equivalent to the American Harbor Freight stores) when I was in high school netted me an arc welder that was heavily discounted because the manufacturer had mistakenly shipped the wrong model to the store.  That purchase proved to be the catalyst that saw me gradually get drawn deeper and deeper into metal working.

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Since then I’ve picked up a number of different welding systems, oxy-acetylene, engine driven stick welders, plasma, MIG and finally a spot welder.

It’s the MIG / wire feed welder though that ends up being the sixth most important power tool (in my opinion) to add to your workshop – and the one that will really open up a big segment of metal working to you.

Since I have and regularly use a number of different welding systems you would be right to question why the MIG is the first one that I suggest you should get, particularly since it was one of the last to actually assume a place in my own shop.

Simply, a MIG/wire feed welder offers the best combination of capacity, learning curve and price among all of the welding systems I have.  On price – the 170 amp unit I have from Harbor Freight is on offer as I write this for $190, but I am reasonably sure that there will be some discount coupon in the next few months that knocks that price down to about $150 – which is very reasonable indeed.

Necessary accessories - auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush

Necessary accessories – auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush – along with a partially finished grain mill

While a stick arc welder could be had at a similar price point, the learning curve for this latter welding setup is more difficult.  A wire fed rig by comparison is downright simple.  It’s not quite “If you can pull a trigger you can be a welder” but it’s not that far off.  Likewise, a wire fed rig will allow you to weld a greater range of material thicknesses that are of interest to a home shop fabricator.  You can work on fairly substantial thicknesses of steel – not as heavy as can be handled by stick arc welding – but probably most of what you’ll be doing on one side.  But then unlike the arc welder you’ll be able to effectively weld sheet steel – like car and truck panels – that a stick welder would find difficult to handle.

On the Oxy-Acetylene side the learning curve isn’t significantly different from a MIG.  It is probably even easier if you get a torch like the Henrob.  But, the cost – especially if you are going to be doing run of the mill work – is going to be several times what a MIG would run you when you figure in the cost of decent sized tanks.

Now, I really appreciate having both of those systems in my shop, but I have no hesitation in recommending folks grab a MIG/wire feed as their first welder.  For some it may prove to be all the welder you’ll ever need.  Others may find it simply serves as an introduction to what is possible for them to accomplish and serve as their own catalyst to broaden their metal welding systems.

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Forming curves in sheet metal without slip rolls

Sheet steel bent and welded to form shroud for the homestead grain mill

Sheet steel bent and welded to form shroud for the homestead grain mill

You might not expect this coming from someone who puts up a significant number of posts discussing tools and the projects that can be accomplished with them… deep breath – you can accomplish a lot without much in the way of tools.

Specialized tools can really speed up work and make projects easier – but you can accomplish some pretty cool things with very simple processes.  Case in point – forming curves aka radius bends in sheet steel would normally be done with slip rolls – but you can do a very acceptable work for a lot of jobs using only a piece of pipe mounted in a vice.  Sure it takes a bit longer than putting it through the rolls – but in a lot of cases it will get the job done just fine.

Build a grain mill

Build a grain mill

Frankly,  I really value the options and capacity my tools provide.  But, I have been building my workshop for over two decades, and while some folks might go out and drop several grand on tools it seems more reasonable to expect that most folks would want to dip their toes in the water first to see if doing more mechanical work is really something they want to take on before dropping big sums of cash (if they do have that financial freeboard).

Fortunately a lot can be done with relatively low cost tools and simple techniques.  I’m building another grain mill – this time for a friend so I decided I’d take a few short videos to show just how easy it is to build the grain mill since I know the finished product is probably pretty intimidating to most.  Check out the book Building the Homestead Grain mill for all of the detailed instructions on how you can build your own professional grade grain mill using simple tools.

 

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Essential Power Tools – The Air Compressor

So, leading up to this Tool Tuesday I faced a bit of a quandary… which tool was my No 4 most important power tool? That really hadn’t been a big factor with the first three… they fell into place very easily.  But with number four there were a bunch of contenders for the spot… you’ll see them all but it was a very close finish for the next group of tools.

Air Compressor - An Essential Power Tool

Air Compressor – An Essential Power Tool

But of course if you can read the title you’ll know that the winner of spot Number 4 on my Essential Power Tools list is the air compressor.

So why did it win out.  Well, units that are capable of doing home shop level work are reasonably priced.  As I write this Harbor Freight has a 2.5hp unit on for $159, and it needs to be broadly applicable to the work you’ll find around the home, homestead and garage and shop – specialized tools aren’t in this list.

This package really needs a bit more to be of any use – the compressor is just the equivalent to buying a generator and being able to then use power tools.  Really the first air tools to pick up are a combination brad nailer / stapler (for $20) and a tire infiltrator.  This starting tool kit will allow you to do a lot of small and detailed woodwork – whether it is putting on baseboards or molding around the house or nailing together bee hive woodware (especially important while the glue is setting) the brad nailer and stapler is frequently used.  The same applies for the air chuck.  Sure I could go to the garage and use that compressor but having my own means I can top up my tires as part of my vehicle checks – which reduces my fuel consumption and extends my tire life – both money saving propositions.

Air Tools - like this framing nailer - can significantly improve your productivity on the jobsite.

Air Tools – like this framing nailer – can significantly improve your productivity on the jobsite.

A smaller gravity fed HVLP spray gun runs about $15 and allows you to bypass the expensive cans of spraypaint an instead pick up liquid paints and a can of paint thinner.  In this role alone it’s saved me a load of cash!

Then there are the larger nailers – for framing, roofing and hardwood flooring.  These run about $75 and up for good quality units – but man are they ever a time and body saver.  I spend a great summer working as a caprenters assistant – earning an awesome education and getting payed as a bonus – but I can honestly say that swinging an eastwing 22oz head framing hammer for a summer is work.  Now I wouldn’t dispense with it by any means, but as we were putting up an addition to a bunky at the cottage my eight year old daughter was able to drive 3″ framing nails using the air nailer!  For an adult – well construction time was cut to about a quarter of what it would have been with only old fashioned manual nailing – and that is a pretty paying proposition.

Likewise, if you are installing hardwood flooring having the specialized air nailer for that task is practically a requirement.  I think mine has done at least two dozen homes as folks have borrowed it and it is no worse for wear.

The air die grinders and sanders, ratchets and impact wrenches are very nice pieces of kit as well and can be had on special at very reasonable prices.

But for all of this capacity and efficiency improvements you need to start with the compressor… so consider picking one (and a few accessories) up and adding them to your shop if they aren’t already there.