Saturday, May 28, 2011

About and regarding tools and materials (ten tips.)

My tool collection is reasonably impressive. there is surely many hundreds of pounds, if not thousands.
It's not as complete as my fathers. that's for sure, (I'm missing a full sized pillar drill, bench grinder, lathe, table saw, table planing machine), but then I'm also clearly a few years behind him, and have time to keep collecting...

So here a few observations that I've made about tools and parts...

1, Tools are expensive, quality tools even more so. -but good tools, or good enough tools needn't be.
now I'm torn on this, for two reasons, I bought a B&Q value drill, it's ok, but it's not particularly strong (800w I think), it also has no speed control, so it's not particularly useful. It did only cost £10 though...
I've got a power craft drill, that's a little more powerful, with variable speed and only cost a little more something like £13 from ALDI.

does it hold up to a professional DeWALT drill, I doubt it.
will it stand up as well as a dewalt drill? I also doubt that.
will it last as long, probably not...

BUT, I can buy the £13 drill from ALDI 20 times over before I've spent as much as buying a single Dewalt drill, (which if I drop from a height would break just as easily!).
I'm already nearly 30, If my ALDI drill lasts 2 or three years, then I'll basically be able to keep buying cheap drills until I die, and still have spent less.

Basically, spend your cash wisely, sometimes the cheapest is not the best buy.
sometimes the most expensive, is not the best buy either.

2, Parts are expensive, but not if you know where to look.
do two searches now, open ebay and search 1hp motor on ebay, you'll see that 1/4 watt motors start at around £30, with up to £100 for a single phase 1hp electric motor...

now do another search, HP Watt conversion. you'll find 1hp = 746W.

now go read point 1 again, now point two... read until you notice that I can buy a drill that's got more than a 1ho motor in it for £10, or I can buy a 1/4hp motor for £30, a 1HP motor from £50 - £100.

the lesson here, sometimes cheap tools are good for a maker, they let you have a part that's cheaper than buying a retail.

if you buy the drill you get,
(a 3 pin plug) -retail £0.59
a length of flex -retail ~£1
a 3 jaw jacobs chuck searching ebay lists those as around £5.99
(so we're already over half the price of the thing!)
then you've got a motor. AND a small plastic gearbox.

3, Go into shops looking for tools, but don't necessarily buy tools.
Both ALDI and LIDL stock tools that are a decent price, and decent quality, their stock sale lasts about a week and you get a decent tool at a decent price (see the drill above).

When I bought the drill for example, I wasn't starting a project that required a drill, I just knew that in the future I would want a drill (that was better than my B&Q value one). so I bought it.

Next time I did a project that needed a drill ALDI weren't selling them any more. so I'd have had to go to B&Q or wickes and spend twice as much for the same quality drill.

Go into a hardware shop for a browse, you don't have to buy anything, and if you feel weird about doing that, choose little things, buy some carpenters pencils (for when you're working with wood), or a scribe (for when you're using metal), if you see a decent offer on a tool, buy it! even if you don't need it at the moment.

The same goes for tool boxes. I got a tool box with two draws and a space in the top for £20 from B&Q a couple of years ago, it was full of tools too (which did kind of upset the idea that I'd fill it with tools). it was on sale, and less than half the price of simillar tool boxes from the halfords next door.
I bought a rolling cabinet with a five draw box to go on top from LIDL for £60 (some £200 cheaper than similar set-ups in Halfords.

4, When you're in a hardware shop check the sales bins.
B&Q have little orange baskets that they fill with stock that's either end of line, or damaged packaging.
I've got tons of jig saw blades for less than half price before I looked in a bin.

Brazing rods in B&Q came down from £3 for a pack to £0.50 a pack, (so I took a lot, and a mixture of brass for working with steel, Aluminium for working with aluminium, and a different brass allow for working with copper). I've got something along the lines of 60 packs (I spent £30 on £180 worth of materials.

5, with some things there is no difference in quality
I have "value" tape measures, set squares steel rules, the value that they save is not in the size of the unit. my ruler isn't shorter because it was cheaper!

6, Go to Poundland, that's where I got my hack saw £4 saving on the B&Q value price, it's where I got a set of rasps from, it's where I got blades for my hacksaw, where I've bought vice grips from etc. It's your choice, you can go to a DIY store and buy five tools and spend £25, or go to Poundland, but five tools and spend £5...

7, Go to car boot sales, my router came from a car boot sale (it's a fairly decent black and decker one too) -from their pro range. it works perfectly.

I've gotten hammers, spanners and clamps from car boot sales, the price is pretty much always negotiable and if you don't think it's sufficiently lower than the price for buying it new, then walk away. go and buy it new.

If you're buying from car boot sales, do check that the things look like they'll work though, I bought a belt sander, electronically it works fine, but is missing the belt tensioner, so the belt just stops rotating when you try to sand anything. -if i'd opened my eyes and looked properly I'd have saved some money. (I'll strip it down and scavenge the motor, but it's hardly the point right!)

car boot sales and charity shops are good for fabrics if you're making anything with textiles, (as an example I bought a whole roll of flame resistant sofa covering, this will be the inside of a seat one day, and will also be the head liner on the roof of the car I'm restoring.

I bought a five draw A4 filing cabinet (the sort that do on top of desks and take paper laying flat the draws are about 1.5 inches tall) £5 or £10 from a car boot sale.
I have a much larger 15 draw one, given to me.
and found four sets of the same sort of filing cabinet (but with 3" draws) and six draws on gumtree to whoever could take them away.

so 8, look on gumtree. and free cycle.

I use these as a tool box, (a draw for metal tools, a draw for wood tools, a draw for screws, a draw for bolts, a draw for blades) (32 draws in total as I gave two of the 6 draw units to my dad),
they are not tool boxes, but they work well as tool boxes.

larger filing cabinets work well as power tool storage as you can stack quite a lot inside them.
steel cupboards make great component storage (you can put draw units inside and on the doors).

Don't be afraid to get things for free, something that cost you nothing is great.

Also don't be afraid of getting tools from ebay, (but don't expect to be able to return them!).

9, keep everything.
I might be a bit of a hoarder (in fact a selection of my stuff was once pictured in a PC magazine of what a person with too much stuffs house looks like!

but seriously, keep things that you think you have a use for.
just yesterday I was raiding my parts bit for screws from a computer case, without them at hand I'd have had to go to Maplins and buy some.

I just re-used some chromed steel rods (that strangely came from an old PC case), without them I'd have beeing buying steel from B&Q.

don't keep what you don't have to though.
as an example, when I built a tab welder, I was scrapping loads of PC's at work at the time, I took (de soldered) hundreds of capacitors from main boards, then threw the main boards away. I couldn't use the surface mount components. keeping 20 broken computers? that's have been silly, (even if I know that I'll probably want flat steel sheets in the future, and could have used the cases).

it's not going to hurt you to keep a stock of materials, but be realistic. in my latest project I've been working with aluminium, and saving as many of cuts as I can, simply because I want to do some casting (this is even on my to-do list). but don't save what you won't or can't use, don't keep what you can't store, and don't expand your store to the size of your house, because it's just messy, you'll end up dying alone amongst the piles of broken DVD burners that you were hoping to scavenge lasers from "one day"!
you can melt down milk bottles to make rep-rap materials, but don't keep endless supplies of old milk bottles, either melt them down or throw them away!

and number 10...
The most valuable tools that you have are your hands/eyes/ears/lungs protect them.
that means knowing how to use tools, keeping your fingers away from spinning blades, or behind the sharp point of a chisel.
and keeping your fingers from under the foot of a sewing machine.
holding work in a vice rather than in your hand and drilling into your hand.
if means after cutting metal, you should use a file to clean up the edges, don't leave them sharp, they will cut you!

It means tying back long hair. before going near spinning machinery.

That means ear defenders, dust masks, eye protection (either clear goggle or specific wavelength blocking with lasers, I reccommend auto darkening welding helmets, the ones from halfords are the cheapest ones I've found and they are good.

looking after yourself means wearing long sleeves whilst welding, (the uv from the arc burns you).

It means not drinking, or doing drugs and making stuff with dangerous tools. (the results are worse when you're wasted anyway. better to just enjoy being wasted and continue the making another day.

As you may have guessed I learned all these bits of advice the hard way, I did them wrong first. Sometimes hurting my hands, sometimes hurting my wallet.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Has it really been so long?

July 2009? WTF it's 2011 now!

have I really not posted in so long? have I really made nothing worthwhile?

I guess so...

as an update where my last post got to.

I was in the middle of making a motorbike trailer in February 2010, a fairly simple truss design, when late one night, as I was welding, I guess somebody noticed the mesmerizing blue lights from the street...

Long story short, the garage was robbed, bikes stolen, MIG welder stolen, Arc welder stolen, angle grinder stolen. and a few other bits and bobs.

that was in February, now I have to admit that the insurance company were really good in some ways, they didn't care where the equipment came from, just what it was and gave very similar replacements, but now over a year later I'm still not back to where I started from.
(so my £10 welder was replaced with a £200 -no, I didn't cheat the insurance company, I got a like for like replacement).

For one, I still don't have my tow hitch that was going to go on the trailer. This one just pisses me off, it's sheer incompetence on the part of the insurer, most of the stuff taken were tools, so they just passed the whole claim to a tool supplier. who don't supply tow hitches. and who didn't bother to pass the claim back.

The next thing to piss me off is the arc welder, now the replacement is perfect, exactly what I had a SIP Weldmate i220p, it's a beast, and a new design. which is where my problems start, it's got screw terminals when I was expecting earth and electrode clamp leads. and they didn't supply either the earth lead or the electrode clamp.

The next in this comedy of errors is the gas bottle for the MIG welder, I had a big bottle. now this tools supplier said that they can't transport the big bottle and would I like a little bottle. I said this. I had a volume of gas, I don't care about the container, it's you've like to send me a crate of little bottles because that's all you can transport, then that's fine. oddly enough they didn't want to spend £250 replacing a bottle size that should have cost £80 so they just didn't...

Now the second to worst bit about this whole experience is the amount of time and research I had to put into this, when I first reported the theft to the insurer I detailed everything. the tools and the model numbers. then the insurer had me look through catalogues, get part numbers and prices. I had to do all the work of finding the tools.

then I had to pay £100 (excess) before I could get the tools replaced.

then the tools were delivered to my door (which was nice), but with only a days notice. good job one of my house mates was in because I couldn't take the day off at such short notice!

as said above the tools were incomplete, when I said this to the insurer, they said that I should go out and buy the replacements myself, then send them the receipts!

but the fact of the matter is, I didn't have the £80 - £100 for a new gas bottle, the time to arrange delivery, or the time to collect.
I didn't have a spare £70 to go and blow on welding leads and clamps.
I didn't have the £30 to get a new cast iron tow hitch to replace the one that was stolen, nor the time or inclination to drive to a supplier (the only one I know of is Towsure, based in Birmingham).

long story short I didn't have £200 that I could just lose for a month or two waiting for the insurer to pay me back. I didn't have the time to sort out sourcing a decent price, collection or delivery of these items.

and I didn't pay my premiums for the half arsed service that I received.

to be honest, I've found the experience a bit of a let down, it's only really now, (15 months later) that I find myself with the enthusiasm to spend spare time actually in the garage doing things.

the real kicker with the welder is that in that time the actuating arm for the clutch in my car broke. and rather than going to a garage and paying the money in labour, I bought a new arc welder from screw fix (Kende) -the biggest in the range. so my the time my incomplete arc welder arrived from the insurance company I'd already replaced it myself!

Still, I can't help but think that a welder with screw terminals would make a better supply for a TIG conversion anyway!

Anyway, I've gotten a bit of a bug for making stuff again, so I hope that there will be some more updates!