…and now for something completely different

If you look at my history of posting topics, this one is completely uncharacteristic. However, if you think of my postings as showing off something I did that I’m proud of, this fits right in.

My sister got married last week. I was supposed to give a toast, but her other older brothers and I decided to surprise her (and the groom) with a song instead…

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‘They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To’

“They don’t make ’em like they used to.”

We hear this phrase frequently when people are discussing tools and machines.

The old tools from the 1940’s – 1970’s are generally regarded as the best of their kind. This was the golden age of manufacturing, when men were men, women were men, and cast iron was liberally applied to everything in sight.

Table saws, band saws,  milling machines, shapers, jointers, lathes, pretty much any non-portable tool, you only have to scan a few blogs to find scores of DIYers and professionals proclaiming the virtues of their old machines and descrying the inferiority of the modern equivalents (to see what I mean, just google the phrase “Chinese crap”  …   actually … on second thought, ignore that suggestion).

Some companies recognize this appeal, and work it into their product line. Powermatic, for instance, charges a premium for their tools because they DO make them like they used to (Harbor Freight, on the other hand, sells almost nothing but Chinese sheet metal).

You generally won’t hear me dissenting from this view that older is better. I have an old Rockwell table saw that I fixed up and love to use (although I bought it because it was cheap, not because it was old).

However, I have never bought into the idea fully. It just doesn’t seem possible that modern design and manufacturing techniques could have universally degraded. Granted, I do get pretty upset when tools are advertised as “improved” when all they have done is add a laser; but there must be cases in which the old tool had some deficiency and the newer tools have corrected it.

This brings me to my latest Craigslist experience.

I was browsing through the current tool postings when I came across something I had never seen: a 1940’s scroll saw.

1940's Dunlop Scroll Saw

It was big, heavy, had a good motor, and was only $30 so I bought it, thinking I could tune it up and replace my current scroll saw.

I got it home and started to take it apart.

The first thing I noticed, was that the blade was “tensioned” by a spring loaded plunger at the top. There was no mechanical linkage between the lower and upper blade mounts, which meant that the tool could ONLY cut on the down stroke. Which meant that many modern blades with a mix of down and up cutting teeth could not be used with this tool, and the blade had to be thick and rigid enough to not bend when being pushed through a cut.

1940's Dunlop Scroll Saw - top
This was the first setback but I continued to break down the tool still thinking there may be hope.

I took off the cover for the lower housing and saw two things:

  1. The mechanism to to convert the rotation of the motor to the raising and lowering of the blade was a heavily lubed set of slides, not the ball-bearing + rod and piston design I had expected. 
  2. The housing was full of oil!

1940's Dunlop Scroll Saw - reservoir
I couldn’t believe it! This thing was so inefficient and high-friction that it used an oil reservoir  to keep the parts from overheating and wearing out!

Either that or this was an extraordinarily rare four-stroke internal-combustion scroll saw.

As I did a little more digging and research, I found that these old scroll saws are really not comparable to the new ones.

Because the blade cannot be tensioned, the blades must be thick and rigid (relatively), so they cannot be used for delicate scroll work or tight curves which, in my opinion, are the only reason scroll saws exist.

It occurred to me that this tool was basically an upside-down, non-portable jigsaw that could not do anything my band saw could not do better, and which was unable to keep pace with my smaller modern scroll saw.

They don’t make them like they used to, and it’s a good thing (at least for scroll saws). Since it was only $30, I don’t feel too bad about picking a lemon. Plus I got a nice little motor and I can probably re-purpose the cast-iron table from the saw. Otherwise, this is scrap metal, and I don’t feel guilty about its unceremonious demise.

It lived a long life (72 years), but I cannot imagine it ever brought joy or even marginal satisfaction to anyone that used it. It’s just a miserable old tool.

May it rust in peace.

Working with Friends, and Other Stupid Mistakes

A couple days ago I had a friend come over to help me work on a project for my church.

The project was simple enough: we were starting construction on two small mobile sound booths for the elementary school age kids.

We had the afternoon set aside to work and we had made up a good set of plans with material layouts made up in advance (we ended up slightly modifying the design, but we had a good starting point).

SoundBoothSketchup
Working with another person is great; especially when dealing with heavy 4×8 sheets of plywood. Assembly work is also a breeze when one person can hold a plank in place while the other person fixes it in place; and since I don’t have an outfeed support on my table saw yet, it’s a huge help to have someone else to support the ends of the larger cuts.

But there’s a dark side to having a coworker in the shop. I’m not sure what the technical term for it is, but two people are dumber than one.

I think it may be a combination of factors. Maybe it’s because we’re both trying to work fast to ensure we don’t waste the other person’s time. Maybe it’s because there’s an unspoken competition to prove who can drill the most holes in a given amount of time. Maybe it’s because we skipped lunch…

“okay, the offset from the edge of the circular saw is 1.5 inches.”

“We need the piece to be 64 inches long.”

“<mumbling> okay, so 64 plus 1.5 inches…</mumbling> So we need to set the guide at 66.5 inches.”

“Right.”

<cut completed>

“…”

“…”

“We’re stupid.”

Whatever the reason, we had moments like these with increasing frequency as the day went on.

At one point, we even installed supporting rails for shelving on the wrong side of the cabinet, not noticing our mistake until the glue had set up (TitebondII is really strong).

Eventually we completed what we set out to do for the day.
Soundbooths
When I’m working alone I can gladly spend hours tweaking settings, checking measurements, and getting things just right (full disclosure: I was working alone when I cut two boards in a row 1/2-inch too small while working on my metalworking station… but that’s aside the point).

In contrast, when I have friends in the shop, instead of thinking things through at each step, I try to keep up the pace and keep my friend entertained. The result is a good time, but with unnecessary re-work and a product of only sufficient quality.

All that said, I will maintain the stance that I would rather work with friends than work by myself, but I can only justify that because I value my time with my friends more than my workmanship.

…or maybe that’s the source of the problem…

Inca Band Saw Part 2: The Thrust Bearings

This is was the upper thrust bearing on my Inca 342 band saw:

I don’t know how someone lets a part get to this level of failure without replacing it, but this is what was there. The lower thrust bearing was not as bad, but it had worn down enough that the blade was riding on the full face of the bearing, and not just on the outer edge as intended.

Now I had to deal with the reality of the saw I had purchased: where was I going to find replacement parts for a Swiss saw from a company that had gone out of business some time ago?

I looked around the internet and found a few references to Eagle Tools  as a possible source of advice and replacement parts, but I decided I’d see if I could find something local first.

…it turns out that my solution was really local.

I have been using the Amazon.com wishlist to drop serious hints to anyone wishing to buy me a present, and one of the things I had wished for and received was a lot of 100 608zz ball bearings. I picked these ones because they are the most commonly used size of bearing and I wanted to use them for various hobby and jig-making projects… nothing specific in mind.

Coincidentally, This is the same size bearing Inca chose to use on their saw. So, not only did I have a replacement thrust bearing on hand, I had 100 of them!

The process of removing the old thrust bearings and replacing them with new ones was easier than I thought it would be.

The bearings are press-fit, but the fit is far more loose than other bearings I’ve dealt with. Although they were too tight to remove and install by hand, they were loose enough for me to feel comfortable using a punch and a dead-blow hammer to remove and install the bearings.

To install the new bearing, I simply laid the baring flat on a piece of rubber and tapped the thrust bearing shaft into the bearing.

I re-installed the bearings on the saw and was ready to work on the next repair (seen in the picture below) the wooden replacement blade guides.

…to be continued in Inca Band Saw Part 3: The Guides

Hello World

My friend told me last week that his new year’s resolution was to start blogging. Since I didn’t have any resolution of my own, I stole his.

I am a Husband to a wonderful wife, the proud Dad of the cutest 7 month old girl in the world, a project manager at Qualcomm, a homeowner in San Diego, and a somewhat compulsive and ADD tinkerer.

I’ll be posting mostly about the projects I’m doing around my house and in the garage, sharing tips, tricks, and screwups.

I’m currently working on:

Other projects I will be starting/continuing will be:

  • The Backyard
    • Applying stone veneer to my BBQ installation
    • Building planter surrounds for the palm trees
    • Installing sprinklers and drip irrigation
    • Laying grass sod
    • Installing lighting
    • Building a pergola and childproof railing
  • The Front Yard
    • Installing sprinklers
    • Laying Sod
    • Installing lighting
  • The Inside
    • Making a cabinet for our printer and office supplies
    • Making a barn door type sliding door system for the master bathroom
    • Installing a ceiling fan in the second bedroom
    • Figuring out how to configure my gaming setup (xbox and projector)
  • The Garage
    • Figuring out how to store a wheelbarrow and a lawn mower and get them out of the way
    • Making shelves and drawers under my workbench
    • Making room for my wife’s car and my workshop to coexist in a 2-car space

Overall, I should be able to manage to keep myself busy…