Wow, Spring rages on. Delayed this year, but I'm not complaining. The camas are in full early bloom, when the top of the raceme is still in tight buds. The best time for camas!
I'm excited for larkspurs and big, burgeoning cow parsnips.
Reports of my retirement have been greatly exaggerated.
Finished this biohazard storage cabinet for the Health Department:
Sheet metal is not really my forte, but this is basically a tube frame with sheathing tacked onto it. I should have cross-braked the door panels to prevent oilcan booming, but it's not too bad. Tiny tacks make for low distortion.
Pretty much done with the metal parts of this bench. Just needs powdercoat and wooden armrests. Haven't gotten a picture of the finished frame yet. This is from a test-fit a couple weeks ago:
The Farm Home is getting a bicycle repair program!
They got a grant to put together a tool kit and some basic replacement supplies (tubes, pedals, brake pads, cables, etc). We are also putting together a cart so the workstation can be moved outside. Not quite done yet, but here's a progress pic:
A super-contorted piece of oak:
I'm quietly "going out of business" or at least spreading that rumor. These seven years of trying to make it in the metal fab business have been.... quixotic? Maybe that's the wrong word.
I had Covid last month and I spent the time doing some reading about entrepreneurship and business operation. It made me realize that I have basically no aspirations of being an entrepreneur. My takeaway is that entrepreneurship is basically channeling your creativity into building a money-making robot. What a soul-sucking endeavor. There are so many more worthwhile things in this world than creating mindless money machines. What does one truly have to give the world? A half-assed metal fab business is not worth shit in the grand scheme of things.
Great, so I welded a bumper for somebody's truck last week, whoop-de-doo. We're still headed to hell in a handbasket. Nothing is really changed.
What if it's a friend who asks me to weld them something though? By helping them, I'm serving my community and deepening my relationship with that person.
What if it's a stranger who asks me in good faith to help them with something they don't have the skills or tools to do on their own? In doing so, we forge a new connection and strengthen society a tiny, commensurate bit.
What if my enemy lays down his sword and graciously asks to collaborate on a project to benefit the world? Who would I be to pass that opportunity to heal a wound in the soul of humanity?
So, I'm confused about what I should do. On the one hand, I've learned a lot about how to make things, how to advise customers on best practices, how to design things for optimal human interaction.
On the other hand, what the heck am I doing with my life? The big question posited by the boring business book that I read during Covid quarantine was, "What do your customers want that they can't get elsewhere?"
The answer, in terms of metal fabrication is, "I have no friggin' idea."
I have no real background in metal fab, industry, welding or design. There's a lot of tradition, institution and knowledge that exists in this realm that I have never touched by transitioning from being a hobby welder to trying to run a professional shop. I have no particular credentials nor credibility in the real world of industry.
What it comes down to is a desire for belonging. To be worthwhile to the world for more than just existing and being a "nice" person.
There might be a place for some metal fabrication in this clarified goal. After all, I still need to make a modest income, and if I can truly help someone in a reasonably lucrative way, then yeah, I'll weld some stuff. Until I figure out something better, it's at least a way to keep the lights on.
But I feel like there's a lot more out there than settling for running a half-assed metal shop. There's some need in the world that I haven't figured out yet that will both provide for the common good and provide me the means for a modest lifestyle.
"Strength doesn't grant us the right to rule, it gives us the ability to serve."
That's a paraphrasing of a quote from my favorite book series, "The Stormlight Archive". It comes from a conversation on being a good human, basically.
In the books there is a group of people called the Knights Radiant who swear oaths to: persevere in life, to be strong and just, and to live well. When they swear these oaths, they form a symbiotic bond with spiritual beings called "spren" that grant the Knights special powers.
It's a story about redemption. At least that's what it means to me. Flawed and failed humans being given next chances to be something better.
Maybe it's silly for me to draw such inspiration from a work of fiction, but hey, some people read the Bible; I read Stormlight. (The author is actually Mormon, and probably would feel weird having his books compared to the Bible).
When I am tempted to give in to apathy and depression, these dang books make me realize it's worthwhile to keep working toward something better.
Looking back, I need to acknowledge my awesome customers. I've had the privilege of working with a lot of really cool people on a lot of cool projects. My service to these customers has been... erratic, oftentimes. I know there have been a lot of times when I've been a crazy weirdo who doesn't return phone calls, blows past deadlines, speaks rudely, and leaves work undone. Thankfully, despite these setbacks, there have been a lot of successes too: The organ bike, the carnival rides, bike frames for tall people...
For what it's worth, I don't feel bitter or regretful at all. Rather, I feel quite a sense of opportunity and optimism about the future! There is work to be done. Art to make. People to love. A world to try to serve.
The main project I've been working on lately has been an artsy-fartsy bench for my friend Rebecca who I met in September 2021. On its face, a park bench seems like a pretty basic project: a few legs, a seat and a back; boom, done. But what she was really asking was for me to help her make an art piece to share with her neighbors. She's got the one prime sunset-viewing spot in the entire neighborhood, and this bench is going to plop down so that the neighbors can share in the enjoyment. Now that's pretty darn cool, and it deserves a cool bench.
Keeping with the neighborly theme, my 'cross-the-street neighbor, China gave me a bunch of sycamore from her backyard several years ago that a friend then milled into 2" slabs. The slabs slowly were given away or repurposed until only this one was left:
Then, after some sketches sent back and forth, we arrived at a rough concept plan:
Here's what the frame of the bench looks like so far, six months later:
It's not quite done yet. There are a couple of branches left to go. The upper right corner needs a bit more fill-in for the design to be aesthetically balanced.
And after some discussion, we decided to go the whole nine yards and do the "river slab" thing with the piece of wood for the seat:
The two haven't been put together yet, but we epoxied threaded inserts into the underside of the slab for bolting down to the frame.
It's been a really fun project. More than fun, because of the intent behind it. It feels worthwhile, where it would be maybe frivolous if not for the fact that it's a gift to the community. I don't know what "art" means (I've heard a lot of opinions), but that feels like art, because it makes me feel a connection.
I'll post photos when it's done. Not too far to go now.
Been cranking away on this big railing job. One nice thing about railings is that it feels like something that is actually beneficial to the world. A lot of people are going to touch them, and be supported by them.
This is a railing for a commercial space that is being remodeled into an apartment on 2nd Street. Nothing fancy or ornamental, just utility and code compliance. That said, there are details to consider, especially when something's going to have direct human contact.
I'll never mig weld another handrail if I can help it. Tig welding is the way to go. It looks a lot nicer, and doesn't create spatter, which creates a rough texture near the weld. Mitered round tubes are hard to mig weld without getting a lumpy bead in places where the gun angle gets too shallow, as it's difficult to follow the contour around. Spatter and lumpy welds can of course be mitigated after the fact, but I'd rather spend my time welding than grinding.
I've been using a stainless TIG welding filler rod lately, because the humidity in the air makes my non-stainless rod rust, and I don't want to be putting oxides into my molten puddle if I can help it. The resulting weld has this rainbow sheen to it that's really pretty. I've done some research on the mechanical soundness of using stainless as a filler, and in really critical, tight-tolerance scenarios (high pressure pipe, airplane fuselages etc), it would certainly be a no-no, but for something like a railing using large tubing with relatively large weld area it's more than adequate. The rod I'm using costs about three times as much as the standard ER70s-2 mild steel rod, but I go through rod so slowly that it's of no consequence. I estimate that I spent less than two dollars on filler rod on these four railings. Compare that to maybe $20 worth of wear on cutting tools, $30 on abrasives.
Handrail brackets are an area where a little bit of creative freedom can be applied. These are designed to give optimal hand-clearance characteristics. Behold, the bicep flex bracket:
The offset miter allows one's fingers to wrap more fully around the handrail, and the obtuse angle keeps the sharp corner tucked under the rail and away from people's clothing.
In other news, the bike from the previous blog post got powder-coated up all sparkly:
Had a quick trailer repair project for a local farmer. The tailgate ramp's hinges were rusting off; just replaced them with some "bullet" hinges.
I went into that local place here in Corvallis that's called "Wood and Hinge" and asked if they stocked weld-on hinges with grease fittings. Apparently, they're not actually a hinge store.
I'm trying to get out of the trailer work business, because I tend to end up with a sore back and a bad attitude afterward. I have a hard time turning down people who genuinely need help though. And I don't know the contact of any of my competitors, though I suspect a quick internet search would return such info.
I am interested to meet my "competitors". I turn down a fair number of project proposals, and it would be nice to have someone to refer them to. I don't see it as losing customers, I see it as helping them. I bet the local fabricators could do some pretty cool collaborations if they shared some creative interests. I suspect most of them are busy working!
In other news, I now accept credit cards for a 3% fee. When you're enjoying your European vacation, you can think of me and all those airplane miles you racked up by spending money on cool metal projects.
Lightweight roof frame for my buddy Jeff's cob oven:
Transporting it was slightly sketchy, as it's about 9' square. I took backroads.
Some mesh steps and matching railings for this house in the woods. The mesh allows gravel stuck to people's shoes to fall through.
Same house, this is a mesh grate under an outdoor showerhead that allows water to drain through.
Putting an ISCG mount on Nathan's frame. He runs a chainring protector/bash guard thing that only uses the lower two holes of the ISCG bolt pattern. Since this bike has a chainstay yoke, I made the mount in two pieces and silver brazed them to his bottom bracket.
The cylindrical portion gets brazed to the underside of the chainstay yoke.
The bash guard is adjustable to some degree, so exact alignment of the ISCG mount is not super critical, but I made this fixture to align the bolt pattern properly with reference to the rear axle:
It's been busy. Not in a bad way.
This owl came to check out the field mouse scene by my shop the other night:
Got some interesting stuff in the works. For now, here's a photodump with some brief captions:
Decorative grille for burglary prevention:
Mitering the seat tube notch on bike 19 for my buddy Nathan:
The transverse holes are for barrel nuts to mount the disc caliper. I only like seatstay mounting calipers if the bike is never going to need a rack or full coverage fenders. Mounting on the chainstay requires a different design of dropout that raises the seatstay up and out of the way of the caliper. Not a problem, just different.
Clearance for 29 x 3.0" tires. We used a 157mm rear axle spacing for extra chainring/tire clearance:
Not a great picture, but this is a height adjuster for a bike repair stand that slides up and down on a 3" square post. For the uppy-downy part, I bought a 12" piece of 3.5" square tube from McMaster ($24) and welded nuts to it. I also glued in some HDPE (milk jug material) inside to make the sliding action smoother. The tightening screws are made from a piece of 7/8" allthread I had lying around welded to a 1" tube t-handle. Nice big threads which don't mind being reefed on. In theory, this kind of stand could be used with a wooden post, as long as it was securely affixed to the floor and ceiling. Mine is a 3" square tube welded to a flange, which is then bolted to the concrete floor. Very solid relative to what's available from Park et al.
Modular canoe rack. Can be bolted to a flatbed trailer. There are some cross-members not shown in this photo:
Six lovely canoes. I made two of these racks, and was just asked for more. Perhaps I should make them four levels instead of three.
Finally got this school bus deck installed for my skoolie conversion friends/customers ("Peachy Dreams Skoolie" is the name of their project if you want to look them up). Still needs planks and a few details, but it's going to be pretty cool. It folds up into a transit position while driving.
Most of the stuff I've been working on lately hasn't been particularly noteworthy or picture-worthy, but here's a custom fork being mitered for a recumbent front hub motor conversion. This was my first time building a unicrown fork, and ultimately, it was easier, once I had the fixturing figured out. I mean, duh, segmented forks are going to require two extra miters, with a compound angle I might add, and two extra welds. Four if you count leg-caps.
It's a straight-blade, whereas the original fork was curved. I don't believe there's a significant structural difference between the two, though the pre-yielding involved in bending the legs maybe de-localizes the point of future plastic deformation. I dunno, I'm not an engineer. I'm just going on my best understanding of the forces at work.
It feels slightly scandalous to admit here when I do something other than work on the projects that my customers are patiently waiting for, some having given me money in expectation. That said, my Summer has been pleasantly full of cool things. Canoe trips with new friends, bike trips with old friends. We came out high above Poole Slough near Newport in a semi-bushwhacky quest to connect Beaver Creek Road to South Beach. Behold:
Between Zach's squiggly GPS line, two sources of maps, satellite images and some backtracking, we succeeded in making the cut-through, which beats the heck out of riding on Highway 101 between Ona Beach and Newport.
I wish I'd gotten some better photos of these "caster boards" I made for the new Oregon Trail Brewery to move their new 1,100lb fermenting tanks into the brewery. There are four of them, one for each leg, and they ride 1/2" off the ground.
This project made me wish fervently for a CNC plasma cutter. Cutting plate is hard to do accurately by hand, and grinding to size takes an unfeasibly long time.
Certainly, I could have come up with a better design, that would have been as strong and rigid as these while being easier to manufacture, but I believed that I was under a tight deadline, so I brainstormed this design and got to work.
The rectangular tube sections are stiffeners that transmit load from the center of the caster to gussets welded to the sides of horizontal plane members. Partly this was due to only having a limited stock of suitably thick plate. Also, not having to cut all the members out of 1/2" plate saved a lot of time and effort. I just don't have the powerful tools needed to do a lot of work efficiently with thicker gauges of metal.
It may or may not be an exaggeration to say that I have accumulated a ton of metal. Lots and lots of various sizes and wall-thicknesses of tubing. Some pretty huge stuff too. The larger tubes are barely handleable by one person, some of them weighing upward of 200lb for a 20' stick. Placing one end of the stick on a dolly reduces the handled weight to a half, but that's still no joke.
This was apparently an advertisement published by my great-uncle in a local periodical for his construction business. I wish I knew the year.
It's both endearing in its very dated depiction of an unemployed craftsman, and a good cautionary tale for my fabrication endeavors. I have a weird mental block about charging people money for things, and then sometimes I will actually overcharge someone I should have given a break, and it makes me freak out.
My charging structure is rather loosey-goosey, because the nature of my work is so varied.. Basically, I bid based on the number of hours that I think it will take to complete a project, which is historically about half of the real number of hours I spend on something, and on how pleasant the job is. If I'm going to be grinding on my back underneath someone's trailer for hours in the rain, I'll be more likely to pad my rate upward. But then there are other factors: the neighborly-discount, the elderly-person-discount, the person-I-admire-discount, the friend-discount (that one's awkward, 'cause your friends want to make sure they're not stiffing you, so it's like a tug-of-war of niceness), the crush-discount, the family-discount... The list goes on.
Regardless, I'm improving at this. If you're my customer, be of stout heart; I don't wish to exploit you, nor do I wish to undermine your confidence in my product by undervaluing it.
Maybe that's too much personal information to be spouting off on a website intended primarily for marketing purposes, but when in doubt, "the truth is generally preferable to lies".
I've been excitedly waiting to share this video of the organ bike in action:
This project has been in progress for about two years now, with a lot of procrastinating, backtracking and redesigning, but it is probably the coolest thing I've ever collaborated on. The family at Orgelkids USA has been really fun and patient to work with. Check them out at their website:
This organ trailer is finally coming together. Going to powdercoat tomorrow.
These beautiful bellows were made by Terry Lambert. The raised "dais" part houses a check valve for one-way air flow.
This deck project is also wrapping up. It's a deck for the back of a school bus. It folds down on heavy-duty hinges.
Some complicated multi-plane bends in this one.
This thing is mostly to prevent people from putting their hands on the acoustic panel behind it.
I hated math as a kid, with the exception of geometry. Now, I think it's cool, but maybe I'm just jumping on the bandwagon of "math is cool!"
Anyway, a project like this involves bending tube in three dimensions, which is more advanced geometry than I ever studied in school. Ultimately, I just eyeball and fudge it. When I need to, I cut, re-weld and grind down, to cover my ass. A powder coat covers a multitude of sins.
I made a sweet receiver-hitch mount for my tube bender:
Tube bending requires a lot of force. You're stretching the outside of the tube through the curve and compressing the inside. Without the benefit of heat to soften the metal. Even with a cheater bar on the handle, I often put my full weight and strength into bending large tubes.
Thankfully, cars are really heavy! I periodically stop in to weigh stations just to make sure I'm not putting on too much truck-weight, and the last I recall, this truck (legal name: "Dakota Jesus Fanning") weighed in at 2,150kg (4750lbs). This makes for an awesome place to mount tools that have to withstand a lot of external forces, and I'm planning on taking better advantage of this in the future. It'd be a great place to mount a vise, or a bike repair stand.
Being a bit of a fantasy nerd, I'm irresistibly drawn to old-fashioned garb such as cloaks and robes. I recently acquired a cloak from my friend Dylan who moved away, but it was lacking a closure for the neck, so I set about researching traditional methods of joining the halves of such a garment. The so-called penannular brooch is an elegant solution that apparently was ubiquitous in antiquity. It is simply a pin that passes through fabric to be joined, and an attached ring that captivates the ends of the pin. A gap in the ring allows the pin to be passed through before rotating the gap away.
Bike spokes are a great material to make a lot of things out of:
- They are abundant, about a dollar apiece at a bike shop, or free if you have a dead wheel you can salvage from. Ask your local bike shop; they will probably give you a dead wheel for free if you tell them what you're doing and aren't too obnoxious about it.
- They are often (ideally) polished stainless steel, which makes for a pin that slides through fabric easily and doesn't corrode.
- They are quite stiff and strong for their diameter, which is good, because an incomplete circle is a much weaker structure, mechanically speaking, than an equivalent solid ring. They are more than stiff enough to make even a large brooch, maybe up to 100mm in diameter, though that's bordering on absurdly-large-belt-buckle territory. A 100mm brooch is likely an attempt to shatter fashion conventions in a dramatic statement.
2mm spokes (the most common size you're likely to find) are great for the ring part, and can be used for the pin as well, but a skinnier pin, made from a 1.7, or 1.8mm spoke would pass through the tight weave of a modern fabric better.
For tools, all you really need are a pair of decent needlenose pliers and some sturdy wirecutters. Most consumer needlenose pliers come with mono-buttocked integral cutting blades on their jaws, which worked just fine for me, though a person of limited hand strength may wish to use cutters better suited to the task. Longer-handled needlenose pliers would be nice if you are lacking in hand strength, as 2mm spokes take a fair bit of force to bend, especially when bending the tight loop in the pin. I have a pair that I got from a free box that I can loan out if needed.
I also used:
- A hammer and the small anvil on the back of my crappy vise.
- A bench grinder to sharpen the pin. You could conceivably use a fine file or a whetstone to sharpen it, but I suspect that would be rather tedious. If you're joining loosely-woven fabric, or something like a hand-knitted garment, you may not need to sharpen it at all, though you still may wish to soften the sharp edges left by the wire cutters.
The first step is to trim off the elbow of the spoke and the threaded end. Then cut the remainder into two pieces, one about twice as long as the other. Doesn't have to be exact. I ended up cutting off extra length later anyway.
I started with the shorter piece, bending a tight loop onto one end with the tip of the pliers:
Play around with it. You'll get a feel for how to work the wire into the shape you want.
Then to sharpen the point. I used a bench grinder to put a fine point on it, dipping it in a pot of water every few seconds to keep the heat from building up and discoloring the stainless steel (and from burning my poor little fingers).
Stainless doesn't usually spark much, so don't expect this shower of sparks.
Definitely wear safety glasses when grinding. I'm practically religious about it, and sometimes I still get irritated eyes at the end of a day of heavy grinding. Plus, stainless is non-magnetic, so the doctor won't be able to suck it out of your eyes with a magnet like they do for regular steel objects in the eye.
I also hammered the loop flat on the back of my crappy vise. Don't hammer on a nice vise please.
Then on to the ring part, or "penannulus" (heh heh, penis-anus).
Bend the longer piece of wire into a near-circle:
Cut off the extra length:
I also hammered the ends of the ring flat in an attempt to make it look a little nicer:
Then just slip the loop of the pin onto the ring and you're done!
To use the brooch, push the pin through the pieces of fabric you want to join, pass the gap in the ring over the end of the pin, and then rotate the ring to keep the pin from going back through the gap.
This picture is of version 1, which had a dangerously long, sharp pin. I cut the pin shorter and resharpened it.
Another improvement that can be made is to recurve the ends of the ring so that the pin is captivated on the ring. It also makes it look a little fancier, though my wire-work could use some refinement:
Ultimately, in the couple of hours that I have worn the cloak, I have drawn blood gouging myself on the pin multiple times. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I suspect that the issue is that I had to sharpen the pin really sharp to make it work with the tightly-woven fabric of the cloak. It is likely that most ancient fabrics were of a much looser weave. If you look at pictures of old brooches, they often have somewhat blunt pins.
The pin also leaves a hole in the fabric, which may massage out with time, but I suspect that repeated piercings of the fabric will eventually wear it out.
The penannular brooch is an elegant mechanism, but a more sophisticated clasp that has mating halves attached to each lapel of the cloak seems more convenient to operate, less damaging to the fabric, and safer than fumbling with a sharp pin near the neck.