Jul
7

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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.

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Grain mill power drive improvement

I do a lot of baking, which means lots of flour – and since I grind nearly all of the flour I use (I do use commercial flour to cut my whole grain flours when I bake for friends) the homebuilt homestead grain mill gets a lot of use.  Now,  I regularly run through a loaf worth of grain by hand… but more often I grind up quantities of flour using the simple power drive.

Grain mill power drive powering through a few pounds of whole wheat

Grain mill power drive powering through a few pounds of whole wheat

It is a simple drive, a 1/4hp archaic electric motor whose speed is reduced (and torque increased) with pulleys and an intermediary pulley set on pillowblocks.  All of this setup is mounted to a wood frame that allows me to clamp the grain mill to the base.

The drive was put together using what I had on hand and has worked very nicely.   But, the belt on the grain mill was originally one that was pulled off of my snowblower when it became too worn to serve in that capacity.  Snowblower belts are heavy duty, but it was frankly very worn, and worn unevenly.  Still….it worked as the final drive belt for the mill for about a year.

But, by last week it was pretty clear that the life was pretty much gone from the belt, so this weekend I decided to get a new replacement belt.

Whole wheat flour off the burrs

Whole wheat flour off the burrs

I had been putting the grain through to pastry flour fine in three passes in order to keep the belt from slipping.  I started to adopt the same strategy when I finished swapping in the new belt, but,  change a variable and you change the outcome right.  In this case two things became apparent.  The overall pace at which I could process the grain could be boosted with the new belt, and rather significantly, which wasn’t unexpected since the new belt would have a much greater contact area with the pulley sheaves therefore transferring more torque to the grain mill.  But, something else changed too.    The old belt had been unevenly worn which introduced a bit of shaking, the new belt didn’t do that so the feed rate for the grain though the mill was reduced… so instead of three passes it now makes sense to grind to pastry flour fine in just two passes.  That reduces the necessary adjustment, which while quick and easy is still an extra step, so all in all a nice bonus and one that I hadn’t really counted on…. now to get baking…

 

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Essential Power Tools – The Circular Saw

Welcome to the second installment of our Tool Tuesdays.  Last week we revealed the top power tool in our books – the corded hand drill.  This week we follow it up with a tool that is nearly as indispensable and similarly as reasonably priced – the hand held circular saw.

There are loads of wood working projects around most homes – once you start to get comfortable with developing your own capacity to do and recognize that most of what you want done is within your grasp.  A good circular saw will address most of your wood working needs – at least as you are starting out.  It can cut dimensional lumber to length as well as rip sheet goods like plywood and chipboard.  Add a chalk line to your tool kit and you’ll be able to mark out cut lines on sheet goods with

The Circular Saw

The Circular Saw

ease.

It is also eminently portable.  Heading out to do some woodwork somewhere and this is your compact do it all tool.  Now, certainly I’m not knocking the chopsaw.  If you are laying hardwood flooring or putting up a good sized building a chopsaw is well worth the investment.  Likewise I love my jobsite craftsman tablesaw (count on it featuring in this list in a bit) but while both of them are “portable” they aren’t what I am going to grab for a quick project in the back yard or a job at the camp or a buddy’s.  That role, especially if I’m not completely sure what is going to be involved goes to the circular saw.  It’s easy to tote along, can do pretty much everything that the table saw or chop saw can do and if you are careful (read take your time) you can achieve results that are for most purposes close enough.

If you are wondering why my number two tool wasn’t more into the metal working sphere it’s because as much as I love metal working being able to do simple carpentry is going to find a lot more application for most if not all folks.

So if you are in the process of building up a workshop in order to become more self reliant and you don’t already have a circular saw add one to your list to pick up (new or used) and begin to figure out a few projects to exercise your kit and build your skills.