Two items to go over today. One is the visiting firefighter learns cutting and welding. The other is a longish discussion of tool use.
To hell with Covid. I have a bigger problem:
Messy Bench Disease. MBD.
One of the continuing problems around the ranch – and my office – is that I have a God-awful time cleaning up. The way I figure it, a feller can spend his time – like money – only once. You can spend it doing & working OR you can spend it cleaning up. (Care to guess?)
Not only is there the ADHD tendency to complete a project and move on to the “next item on the list” leaving a pile of tools and rubble in my wake, but also during projects, too. As an in-treatment Tool Slut, nothing is more fun using than those exotic, seldom-used tools.
Trackback to a Messpoint
My buddy Gaye (StrategicLivingBlog) got me started on “personal time logging” back in 1973. She’d been through a Bill Onken time management course, and I’ve gotten a ton out of the technique over the past several decades.
The idea is simple enough: Just as you would have a low-productivity employee write down everything during the workday (to help you troubleshoot their work problems), so too, you can apply personal time-logging to great benefit.
Yes, even in the shop at age 73.
Short story: I recently had a simple chainsaw carb replacement – which went off the rails due to problems with the fuel and return lines – maybe a plugged-up fool-filter (considering who was using it, lol) – and by the time I was done there were 20-30 tools on the bench.
Assorted metric, SAE, pliers, ViseGrips, Aerokroil, hammer, mallet, 4-5 screwdrivers, rags… Scene coming into focus?
With the chainsaw showing signs of life again, I went out to chainsaw a bit. And when my consigliere called just as I wandered back into the shop, the odds of me ever getting around to clean-up of the tools on the bench dropped to exactly zero.
Being an ex-management type, I “wrote myself up” and put myself on probation: No more fun projects until I sorted out the underlying personality disorder.
Envision the cartoon characters Pogo (or Pigpen) saying “We has found the messpot and it is us!”
Help from Rings Workshop!
Of course, there are some phenomenal videos on Youtube on the general matter of shop organization. We have to hand out half a dozen Gold Stars (minimum) to Rings Workshop for his three-part series. Watch Shop Organization – Part 1: How To Prioritize Space and Determine Location – YouTube.
The gracefulness of his approach is how it prioritizes not only the placement of tools (the most often used ones are next to you), but he also scored the locations where things should be stored.
The most valuable space on his list was floorspace. Only the big “have to’s” get to live on the floor. Things like the wood shaper, table saws, radial arm saw, jointer, and the central vac here. Roll-around Oxy-Acetylene rig is too heavy to lift, so it wheels out of the way. Big is easy – especially with wheels on ’em – even with ADHD.
Ring then goes into what should have an exalted station on the benchtop. Here’s where I begin to get into trouble. There are some benchtop tools that are used on almost every project, like the drill press and the belt/disk sander.
But there are a lot of other tools that just get used once in a while. But these look “tooly” and give the shop a business-like air. (They also instill confidence when you’re “10-miles offshore” on a project. The “WFT now?” part of complex work.
I have a very nice hand press (for smaller bearings) along with a 15-ton hydraulic behemoth. The small one could live off the bench. Maybe even on another planet, for that matter
After the, floorspace and benchtop discourse, Ring reveals underutilized storage spaces: Wall space, drawers, hanging things from the ceiling. On this last we are ahead of the pack due to our sailing days and affinity for halyards. (Aye lubber, halyards for uppy-downy and sheets are more on the level, argh.)
Rings’ videos are close to Inspiration Hour for a Tool Sluts. A little time spent studying his use of French cleats, for example, can dramatically cut your Amazon storage costs.
A SECOND Deficiency Appears
My Time and Task Logging revealed a second – more subtle – problem: my “bench technique” is flawed.
Takes a minute to explain bench technique since I couldn’t find any good references to it. (Submit a comment and links if you have sources!)
Another story: Back in my avionics technician days, age 18, I was assigned a radio and electronics bench at the airline I worked for. West Coast Airlines before Who’s Air Wurst bought ‘em. I was a card-carrying member of IAM Local 751 up in Seattle. Journeyman R&E at age 18. First-class commercial radio license and all that. Amazing times.
The radio bench was easy to use. The only tools I needed were my own (Craftsman metal toolbox with a damn fine assortment), And the steel-topped bench I worked at was grounded and nearly indestructible. Metal bar stool and work I did.
But this is about “tool use.” They all lived in the toolbox (and the single lift-out tray). Straightforward because there was a procedure manual for all functions of aircraft electronics. Life was simple. “With a #2 Phillips, remove…”
If a complicated tool (a scope, for example or a “megger” was needed, you wandered down to the tool room, gave them your tool chit, which you’d get back when the tool was returned. A bit Gestapo-like, but toolrooms are pretty cost-effective.
Thing is, these were simple times when one box of tools would work. Today, that’s definitely NOT the case. Complexity kills me.
Instead of ONLY electronics on three types of aircraft (DC-3, F-27, DC-9s), nowadays there’s a woodshop, metalshop, 3D and CNC area, farm equipment, time machine experiments (yes, this continues), recording studio (again, more equipment). Our scope isn’t just electrons. No, we’re doing framing carpentry, concrete work. In short, George of All Trades. (Master of none…)
On a typical day in the shop now, I can use anywhere from 10 to 60 tools. Even more if multiple projects are underway in several areas. (Yeah, I know. F-o-c-u-s…
Facing a mirror problem on the electronics bench (too much test gear, too much soldering gear, too many light crown components and tools…
In desperation, I THOUGHT the right answer would be to buy a new toolbox and work strictly out of that…
Limits to Toolboxes
Even now, chaos is only partly resolving. So, I looked back over 70+ years looking for some inspiration that I’d missed.
Bingo! (A third story): There was an IBM Selectric typewriter in the newsroom at KOL in Seattle back in the rock & roll war days. It’s where I taught myself to type stupid-fast. Each of the news reporters and me would crank out copy like crazy. My formative years being radio, spelling was (and remains) and after-thought.
This typewriter would invariably break at inconvenient times.
The repair tech was this ruddy-complected British looking red-haired guy with the nose of someone with more than a passing acquaintance with Bushmills, if you follow. He had one of those field technicians tool cases. 4-5 layers deep, 10-million tool pockets. A place for everything.
The “tool pallets” were fabric-covered. Some had plastic or leather pockets, and there were areas of elastic strips for screwdrivers and picks of this sort, or that. The tools were clean and dandy-looking in their places.
What was even more interesting was that he seldom had more than one tool out of the tool case at a time.
That impressed the hell out of me. There was the major hole in my industrial education!
There had never been any mention of working mainly from a tool case (with multiple tool pallets). Never came up in the work I’d done previously at the airline. And, despite getting straight-A grades in Gas Engines, wood, and metal shop plus Radio Shop in junior and high school, no one had ever explained the proper order and rationale behind the individual tool handling and placement on a bench.
Surely, there must be some secret to it?
I spent a couple of hours on Google and Youtube looking for this missing bit of knowledge.
There was no counting the number of times on small to medium electronics projects when the equipment itself had nearly disappeared under a pile of test leads, digital meters, scope leads, an assortment of nutdrivers, screw drivers, alignment tools, desolder wick, soldering paste, tool wipes, plus Q-tips and a can of De-Oxit. “Pliers! Where the f**k are my pliers?”)
Frustrated as hell, I decided to write down my choices:
Work from a Toolkit – or NOT?
Option 1: I can do what I have been doing. Using this method, I get totally into the Zen of any electronics problem. I enjoy matching wits with components and power supplies. If things occasionally end-up buried by a handful of tools, so goes life. Dig out and keep working.
Option 2: Maybe I could work out of a toolbox? So, I popped for a Jet 5000 Outdoor Tool Case with Pocket Tool Boards, Black. Within blinking distance of $200-bucks.
This will involve a major rework of the electronics bench and a rewiring of my brain. “I solemnly swear to have no more than two tools out of the box (or off a tool pallet) at a time.” This will be a lot of effort – at first.
My whole going with the Zen of chasing the component-level problems will change. The current method is kinda like “running down game on the veldt.” On an infinitely big veldt (or workbench) it makes sense.
The new method would be more like installing a mental new clock mechanism:
Tick! “What is my next step?” Tick! “What tool gets that done best?” Tick! “Get tool, and execute.” Tick! “Evaluate.” Tick “Put tool back” (if not needed when this sequence gets repeated.)
I smooth experiential flow of running down the problem goes away, but at the end, only one or two tools, needs to be picked up.
I pinged retired TV engineer Hank out in Hawaii – so maybe he can offer some insights as a comment. Ray, too, who’s no doubt faced this “Big Brains need many sets of tools” problem.
If you know of any insightful videos on this, send ’em along. I’ll update this when the new toolbox shows up and I “get loaded” so-to-speak.
Plasma and Welding School
Firefighter/EMT son George II has been visiting for a while. Long enough to get roped into the concrete work for the rainwater barrels on the Veggie Grow Room. Also, long enough to brush hog and bring back to life the rifle range out back.
“Dad I want to cut up that steel I-beam and use it for a target for our big guns. Can you show me how to plasma cut?”
“Here kid: You take this ground and put it on a rust-free part of the I-beam. Then….”
“Um…yeah. Something like that.
First Time Plasma Learnings:
- Hold your torch high enough so it is at right-angles to the work. On 3/8th’s steel, if you angle the torch, you will blow the cut pool behind the torch. You want the weld pool to be blown down (or out to the side) with the torch air.
- Use a piece of scrap as a cutting guide. If you freehand, you can make 4-passes and still not get a clean break.
- Try not to do tip-drag because dad’s not made of money to buy consumables. Use the clip-0n tip guide.
- Don’t wear good clothes while cutting.
“How About Welding?”
“Most important part of welding is prep work. Good clean metal welds very nicely. Any rust and you’re begging for trouble. So you clamp on the ground wire and….”
“Um…yeah. Something like that…”
First Time MIG Learnings
- If you’re not spending as much time on metal prep as welding, odds are good you’re not doing enough cleaning for good welds.
- Stand more to the side. Welding smoke is not good for you. Air flow matters.
- Push the weld pool along slowly. If you have trouble with even speeds, use two hands.
- Keep the torch tip closer to the work. That results in better gas shielding from the flux core.
- Clean, use clamps for good fitment, solid tacks, and then run the long beads.
Sometime today, we’ll weld up some 3/8th’s chain to hang this puppy down-range and pop a few rounds. Already takes a tractor to move it, though. We’ll see if green-tip .223 punches 3/8th’s i-beam metal…
For now, more coffee… Remember to work as hard (or harder) for your own agenda on days off than you do “working for the Man” during the week…
Write when you get rich,