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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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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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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 table saw

We’re onto tool number five this week and that’s where the table saw fits in for me.  If you are working wood – and you should  – and are doing a lot of cutting or require a significant level of accuracy the table saw stands well above the circular saw that holds the number two spot on  the list.

Craftsman contractor table saw

Craftsman contractor table saw

Now my table saw is a  craftsman contractor saw model.  Now, I chose the “semi” portability of the contractor saws because in the winter it sits in my basement workshop but as soon as the weather improves it gets moved into the garage – and when it’s getting used is placed in the driveway putting the dust outside.  It’s also been taken to projects at other homes.  I say semi-portability because it is awkward and is a good lift.  Now if you only need to roll it around on its wheels – it really is an easy move.  BUT, the heft does equate to some really solid construction – and that is key here.  DON’T bother cheaping out and getting a small wobbly table saw with a crappy fence – stick to your circular saw until you can afford to get a good saw.  As a reference point, the Craftsman I have runs something north of $400.  For my purposes it is the best compromise between accuracy, portability and price.

Push sticks, hearing and eye protection - not optional parts of your kit

Push sticks, hearing and eye protection – not optional parts of your kit

Now there are a few not so optional accessories you need along with the saw – the hearing and eye protection you should already have – but you will need some push sticks.  Push sticks are essential when you are working close to the blade.  You can cut these yourself, but purchased plastic ones are cheap and I particularly like the ones that have a grove in the lower surface which allows me to get better purchase on the material.

Now,  you’ll note that I don’t have the blade guard in place in the photo’s and videos.  Having an unguarded blade is a risk that I am willing to run – and it is a risk.  I run it in part because a significant amount of my work involves cutting blind groves in material.   That said, I am very careful around the saw, and don’t work with it when I might be tempted to be complacent or in a rush.  If you aren’t doing that type of work and prepared to accept the same elevated risk profile leave the blade guard in place.

Combination roller stand - a near necessity to go with your table saw

Combination roller stand – a near necessity to go with your table saw

If you are working with longer or larger materials – sheet goods or lumber you should probably get a roller stand that will allow you to avoid struggling with acquard material – and you don’t want to make a risky move around a saw blade.

My saw has found use building furniture, buildings and of late has seen a lot of work cutting materials to produce bee hive woodware.   It wasn’t cheap, but it certainly is a pleasure to use good tools – and it has paid for itself several times over.

If you don’t already have a table saw consider investing in one to add to your workshop as a means of empowering your independence.

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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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Essential power tools – the angle grinder

Welcome back to another “Tool Tuesday”.  Featuring prominently in the number three spot on our list of must have power tools is the angle grinder.

9" angle grinder and accessories

9″ angle grinder and accessories

The angle grinder is the power tool version of the hacksaw, the file and the wire brush all in one.  It is quite simply the most important tool to have in your shop if you are going to be working with metal (after the all purpose corded hand drill that was featured as the top must have tool of course).

There are multiple ways to join metal that are easy to accomplish including using pop rivets, metal screws and bolts – but before you start joining you need to have been able to form to shape and that means cutting and grinding and this is where the angle grinder shines.

You’ll want to pick up 1/8″ thick metal cutting disks, 1/4″ thick metal grinding disks and wire wheels (which make removing paint and rust a breeze).  If you are going to be cutting brick, concrete or tile you can pick up masonry cutting disks as well.

Now, you’ll find grinders come in a variety of sizes, from the 4 1/2″ models up to the beefier 9″ units.  While I have a smaller 5″ grinder my go to unit is a 9″ and it’s backup is a 7″.  For cutting and grinding disks I’ve pretty much standardized on 7″ diameter disks which I’ve found to be more common (and on sale more often) than the 9″ ones.  I also appreciate the extra power offered by the larger units.

That said,  the smaller ones are nice if you’ve got to work in tight spaces – such as under a vehicle or aren’t quite as comfortable with the heft and power of the larger ones.

Of course part of the process of determining what makes this list and where it ranks is price.  To give you an idea of the price these run between $20 and $65 at Harbor Freight as of now – without using one of their 20% off coupons they frequently circulate which would knock the price down to $16 to $52.

So if you don’t have an angle grinder yet pick one up today along with a selection of disks.

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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.

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The essential power tool – the corded hand drill

Welcome to “Tool Tuesdays”.  In an environment where everyone seems to have a top ten I thought I’d add my own – but since it’s tools we won’t be stopping at ten.

Without question I think the must have power tool – regardless of how much work you do – is the 3/8″ corded drill.  It’s really a slam dunk given how much use it is likely to find in anyone’s home, and how much effort it will save compared to doing the same job by hand.  At the same time a good unit is low cost – you are looking at less than $50 for a unit that should serve a home shop well for years – and on sale the price might fall to half that!

Now, what exactly do you need to accompany the drill to get the most out of it?

A twist drill bit set - note the reduced shank diameter on the 1/2" bit to fit the 3/8" drill chuck

A twist drill bit set – note the reduced shank diameter on the 1/2″ bit to fit the 3/8″ drill chuck

Well, for starters a set of regular twist drill bits.  Don’t go super discount here – they will just frustrate you.  You don’t need to buy pro grade bits but pretty good quality drill bit sets come on sale at attractive prices fairly frequently – pick one up.  Ideally you’ll be able to get a set with a range of sizes – which generally come with more of the small bits which break more frequently.  If you can only afford a set of bits with one of each size up to 3/8″ or 1/2″ (which if you have a 3/8″ drill will need to have a reduced diameter shank) get a package of 1/8″ drill bits which I find is the best all around pilot drill size.  Remember if you are drilling metal you’ll want to get a can of oil to lubricate and cool the bit while drilling.

A spade bit

A spade bit

Twist drill bits will go up to 1/2″ in a hand drill without issue – larger twist bits are available but those really need a drill press or specialized drill.  Rather if you are working with wood there are a few more styles of drill bit.  Up to nearly 2″ there are spade bits – these are simple and cheap.  If you are drilling where you might hit a nail these are the bits to use.  An added advantage are the extensions available for this style of bit – need to drill through a foot of wood – as needed to be done with the homestead cider press – and this is the bit for you.

If you are doing much finer quality wood work requiring larger holes you’ll probably want to get forstner bits.  These cut around the periphery of the hole and chip out the central section and don’t tend to rip out wood as much as you would with the spade bit.

A hole saw set

A hole saw set

Larger holes in metal or wood can be accomplished with a hole saw.  Instead of cutting out all of the materials as the preceding bits have these only cut out a thin strip around the radius of the cutter.  This is allows you to cut a much bigger hole using less energy.  If you are cutting metal choose a bi-metal set.

While we covered a whole bunch of bits you might not need anything beyond a set of twist drills.  But you will want a set of power driver bits – these are bits with screw heads.  These make putting in and removing screws easy.  Remember you may need to drill a pilot hole for the screw first depending upon what you are doing.  Get a bunch you will find that these tend to wear out, even the really good ones.  Bulk packs are reasonably priced – pick up a set and you’ll love using screws.

A set of power drive bits make installing and removing screws easy

A set of power drive bits make installing and removing screws easy

Finally, there are a bunch of tools that have a shank to fit into the drill chuck including wire brushes and shown here a buffing disk that was just used to polish the stainless steel on the homebuilt stainless wood pizza oven.

Why corded when cordless are available.  Well a few reasons – good cordless units that could compare with a corded one in terms of power are going to be expensive,  cheaper ones just don’t measure up for power or longevity of the batteries.  Plus these drills don’t use much power so you can easily use a light gauge long extension cord for a reasonable price.  As well, if you are going where you’ll only have your vehicle you can easily power these off of an inverter attached to your vehicle battery.

Hands  down you need at least one corded drill along with a twist drill bit set and driver bits in your home.