17 May, 2017

I'm Happy

Whenever I start thinking life is going well something bad happens.  Nothing bad has happened but from past experiences I'm very leery of letting myself think that everything is coming up roses.  But I will do just that for a little bit.

I've recently reconnected with some of my old flying buddies (virtual flying) and we are searching for the lost member of the 35thCAG.  The guy I've know longest, Dadman (I call him Daddy-O) have never really lost touch completely and I'm grateful for that.  I met him on the virtual flight deck of the USS Essex back in 2000 and we quickly became friends.  He's my eternal wingman and a better one will not be found. 

I've also reconnected with my friend and mentor, Rob, from my days in the courier company's repair shop.  I was very happy to find him still kickin'. 

For the moment, I'm a happy camper :)

18 February, 2017

I Know A Lot. Here's Why.

During discussions I often hear someone ask a question.  For example, I was discussing how my friends and I would classify the women at the bar by what type of ship they would be.  Yes, I know, I was rather mean in my youth.  Anyway, the young guy in the shop said something along the lines of "What about the Titanic?  How could they not see that iceberg?"  I know the answer to that question.  The third guy involved in the conversation looked at the young guy and said "Dude, don't open that can of worms."  The third guy had suffered through a thirty minute lecture on the Olympic class ships.  He knew how I was capable rambling on for almost any subject.

These conversations, after I'm done spewing things that the other people don't care to hear, I'm asked "How the hell do you know so much?"  Simple.  I read.  A lot.  Props to my kindergarten teacher and my family for teaching me to read.  I acquired my basic literacy skills in the '70s.  There was no internet, no Google, no cell phones.  I had newspapers, National Geographic magazine and libraries.  Whenever I wanted to learn something I would ask a teacher.  If the teacher didn't have an answer I went to the library and searched the card catalog for a relevant book.  I would then borrow a book, or two, and read it.  Whatever sparked my curiosity.  With the advent of the internet, and its seemingly endless resources (I love Google Books), I devoured everything I found.  A large proportion of the information I take in will, most likely, never be used.  It was simply answering a question that popped into my head.  I once read a book that contained "crafting" types of things and one of the projects was about how to turn an old pair of jeans into a skirt.  I'm never going to do that, but I'll be damned if I don't know how to do it.  Mom taught me how to sew when I was a kid.  On to a more relevant, and current, example.

I read an old, circa 1902, machine shop practices book a couple of years ago. In it was a section about making a tool to resurface valve seats (water valves) and I thought "Ha, ha. Who would need to do that these days?" Well, when I took the stems out of the faucet for my basement laundry sink, I found a slightly chowdered seat for the rubber seal. I have an old house and my first thought was that I was going to have to replace the damned thing. Then that book I had read popped into my head. "I'll be goddamed..." Whipped up a tool on the lathe, resurfaced the seats, reassembled with new seals and new gland packing. Good as new.

This past Christmas, at my Sister's, some music was playing over the TV and, while my Brother was skipping through channels, I heard one little snippet of the soundtrack from James Cameron's "Titanic."  I asked the people in the living room if they were familiar with RMS Olympic.  I received blank stares.  That was enough to lead me into what became an hour and a half lecture on Titanic, Olympic, Britannic, Lusitania etc.

So there you have it.  I read a lot of books.  I also watch a lot of documentaries.  There's no reason you can't do the same.  I'm not particularly smart, I just retain a lot of information.  Any time you wonder how something works I urge you to research that subject.  Answer that question.

12 November, 2016

Real Technician versus Shade Tree

Written while drunk and without the aid of proofreading.  For your pleasure...

Do you know how to spot a real technician from a "shade tree" mechanic?  Are you sure about that?  Allow me to explain the differences to you.  So, hold onto my hand, let's jump down the rabbit hole together.  If you're a regular follower here, you know what's coming.  LOL.

To start off, do you know what a shade tree mechanic is?  The term (for me) originates with the TNN series "Shadetree Mechanic" which aired in the 1990s.  It was a show geared towards the "DIY" mechanic who was working on their own stuff.  At first I found it interesting.  Then, I saw an episode where the "technicians" were going to change a turbocharger on a Dodge truck.  One of the hosts said something like "this turbo has been on for awhile so I'm going to spray some penetrating oil on the mounting nuts."  *spritz, spritz* then he puts a wrench on the nuts and *creak* they come loose.  The dude didn't even tug on the wrench.  I instantly hollered "Bullshit!".  It was a scene that left a whole lot of stuff out.  They didn't show that they sprayed the nuts with panther piss over three days or they cut out the dude using a torch to put some heat on those turbo nuts.  The show was intending to show the average person, who had no idea how their truck's engine worked, that they could repair things themselves.  Sure.  Great.  Sells advertising.  You think they gave one damn about the DIY person when they pulled on that wrench and the stud broke?  Fuck no!  Any professional tech can tell you about the jobs that come in where, obviously, some person had tried to do something themselves (like changing a turbo) and found one or two broken parts.  In the turbo situation the truck would come to us with a complaint of "exhaust leak" or "engine makes a whistling noise".  If you're one of those people, just admit that you broke the shit. We can tell.  We'll have more respect for you if you own the fuck up.  If you're not sure that you can do the job yourself or, at least, can take care of your own fuck ups, take the vehicle to a shop.  If you broke a bolt off because you actually thought WD-40 worked, be prepared to spend a lot of money.  If you would have just brought the thing to a professional you could have save a lot of money in labor by not making things worse.  You have to decide what's more important to you.  Pride or money.

Now, if you "know a guy" and mention that fact, us professionals are automatically going to give you shit or turn down the job.  You see, if I hear the words "My mechanic friend of mine told me..." I'm going to instantly stop listening to the words coming out of you pie hole.  If your mechanic friend was any good you wouldn't be talking to me.  You're just a cheapskate trying to cut corners and are now paying the price.  Neglect your vehicle and it will tell you to "Fuck off!"

Back in the day, before I became a truck tech, a typical problem was the "no start".   Invariably, the cars owned by someone who was either a do-it-yourselfer or "knew a guy"  came into the shop with one, or all, of the following.  New starter, new battery or new alternator.  Shall we break that down?  Averaging the prices of those three components (lots of guesstimation here) from, say, Autozone (the DIY-shade tree store of choice) you, probably, would have spent $300 and a 12pk. of beer and still had a car that wouldn't start.  Why would that happen?  Well, it's because the "guy you know" doesn't quite grasp how to diagnose a no-start problem.  They don't know how to quickly break the problem down into smaller categories from which to continue their diagnosis.  Oh, "it's probably fouled spark plugs."  More money down the drain.  It's not the 1960s.  There's a whole lot more that can cause a no-start than just "tune-up" shit.  Did "your guy" even bother to differentiate between no-crank-no-start and crank-no-start?  That's the first hurdle.  Or, did your "guy who knows cars" just start throwing parts at it hoping something would happen?

What about the "brake job" your "guy" did?  Chances are the shade-tree just threw new pads on and called it a "brake job".  Did he (not being sexist, it's statistics) measure the brake rotor thickness?  Did he bother to check if the rotors are warped (pulsation problem)?  Probably not.  Did you, perhaps, ignore that grinding noise for so long that the brake rotor actually broke and took out the caliper along with it?  When your pal "fixes" the brakes, and you notice the problem is still there, give you a warranty repair?  You probably got the nice, excuse driven, version of a middle finger.  "You'll have to take it to a shop because I don't have the tool for..." as he walks off with your cash.  And it's always cash.

So, despite whatever your "mechanic friend" did, or did not do, you wind up with me.  And you bitch, moan, call me a crook, tell me I'm just trying to sell you parts you don't need because "my mechanic told me..."  Here's what I have to say to you.  "Go fuck yourself."  Yes, there are crooked professionals out there.  There's crooked fuckers in every field.  Who do you trust?  Do you trust your "mechanic friend" because he somehow managed to get your car fixed with his 110 piece Craftsman "mechanic's" tool kit?  Do you believe what you read on "Just Answers" websites?  Here is what you do.

When your car does something it's not supposed to do, you'll think about the people you know and, supposedly, trust.  "Jerry is a mechanic.  He restored that '69 Chevelle..."  It's a '69 Chevelle which, most likely, doesn't run all that well.  A '69 Chevelle is nowhere near as complex as a 2011 Impala.  Ask him if he can tell you how a crank sensor works.  Did you get "Uhhh, well it... the crank..." answer?  Tell that guy that the engine missing on cylinder 4 (assuming you know that's the problem) and see what they do.  You'll probably get a new set of spark plugs and coil packs (expensive).  That "mechanic" friend probably won't even think to ask you some important questions.  When was the last time you checked the oil level?  Does the engine misfire all the time or only at certain road speeds?  Your "mechanic" probably can't even imagine that you have ignored the engine's oil level to the point it got so low you wiped out a lobe on the camshaft.  Or, perhaps, a valve spring is broken.  But, you know, when you end up at a shop full of crooks they'll say your car needs a valve job because, of course, all shops are trying to fuck you.

I see you have some new tires.  Oh, and those nice aluminum wheels are all scratched to fuck.  What's that?  The left front and right rear tires keep going flat?  Your "mechanic" just changed the tires... You think there's a nail in the two tires that are going flat...  Well, before I start work let's make a note of the wheel gouges and, if you would please, initial my comments regarding the gouges.  Why?  Because if I don't, you'll try to blame me for what your "hammer and chisel mechanic" fucked up.  When "I have a 150 piece mechanic's tool kit from Harbor Freight" mechanic changed your tires, did he even consider the corrosion on the wheel to be a problem?  Did he take the wire brush that came with his tool kit... Oh, they don't come with wire brushes... and clean off the corrosion?  Did "Shade tree" bother to spray down the beads and valve stems after the fact to verify there wasn't a leak?  No, of course he didn't.  Because that's the kind of "service" you get for parts+$50 and beer.  But it's my fault.  I'm just a thief running a "racket" to steal your money.  So, just take those leaking tires back to your "mechanic" and demand a warranty repair and/or your money (and beer) back.  See what happens.  You'll end up paying me to fix his fuck-ups.  But you saved a lot of money, right?  NOT!

Disclaimer:  If your "mechanic friend" is actually a professional, we wouldn't be having this conversation.  Professionals do side work.  Not all of us, but some do.  I have no interest in doing my day job on my own time.  When asked I quote the shop rate of my day job.  Conversation usually stops right there.  I went to tech school, I read books and trade magazines non-stop, I've worked my ass off.  Don't insult me by thinking I'll waste my precious little spare time for $20 and beer.  Fuck off.  Also, don't expect your accountant to fix your car.  There's a huge difference between a "shade tree" and a professional.  Any shade tree fucker can throw parts at a problem (and even get lucky sometimes) but it takes a professional to diagnose the problem with minimal damage.  Would you trust a doctor who says  "Well, the people on Yahoo Answers said..."?

09 October, 2016

When Mechanics Have A Bad Day

I just watched a couple of videos on YouTube where a motor mechanic/machinist/welder/foundryman reconditioned a drill press spindle for a friend.  The spindle had a Jacobs taper for mounting a chuck and just above the taper were some threads for a nut which would be used to force the chuck off.  The threads were chowdered and the taper showed signs of a slipping chuck.  The whole end of the spindle was machined down and welded up.  A fresh taper was machined and new threads cut.  This gentleman did a fine job.  When the video got to making a new nut (for forcing off the chuck) I was left scratching my head.  Though we did not see it, the original nut was surely a hex nut.  The new nut was knurled with only four puny 6mm holes for a tommy bar.  It was mentioned that when the gentleman's friend obtained a new chuck, it would be fit to perfection with some lapping compound.  Sounds like solid workmanship.  But what about the next guy?

How often have you removed a chuck from your drill press?  That's what I thought.  Unless it gets damaged, the chuck is never going to come off.  Now imagine a new chuck lapped to a perfect fit.  Think of the use a drill press receives.  Imagine decades of that chuck being force ever tighter onto that spindle by the downward pressure of drilling.  Throw in some condensation from being in an unheated garage or shed.  The next person to remove that chuck is going to be really, really pissed there's only puny 6mm holes in that nut.  There will be an attempt at using a tommy bar, there will be cursing, there will be the desperation of having to get that chuck off...  I see a pipe wrench and hammer in the chuck and spindle's future.  The current nut was ( in order) faced, turned, knurled, parted off, drilled, bored and threaded.  After that, the nut was screwed onto the spindle, mounted in a square collet block, mounted in a milling vise, center of the part found, four 6mm holes drilled.  The knurling and 6mm holes could have been skipped.  The set up could have otherwise remained the same and at least two flats machined onto the nut.  Give the next guy the ability to put an adjustable wrench on that nut and have a fighting chance.

No, I can't see the future.  I've been the poor bastard trying to disassemble things like I've described.  When something like an air dryer gets mounted in a wheel well and is hanging out in the elements and requires three M8x160mm bolts for mounting... A torx headed bolt is not the best choice.  A steel bolt passing through an aluminum air dryer into an air tank made out of shitty steel leads to a LOT of corrosion.  And you know damned well the factory isn't going to waste the time or money to put a little smear of anti-seize on those bolts.

A year or so after the truck's warranty period has ended the dryer will fail.  You know, because nobody reads the fucking owner's manual.  Especially the part about air dryer maintenance (change the cartridge every fall people).  The dryer will inevitably fail somewhere on the road and it will fail so bad that the whole rig can't be limped into a shop.  Some sorry-ass mechanic will end up out there to replace the air dryer.  He will sized up the situation and see what tools he needs to... "Fucking torx heads?  WTF!  What fucking soft-handed desk jockey is responsible for this fuck up!!  Yeah, sure, use torx heads because metal never fucking corrodes!!!"  The mechanic will spray some panther piss on the thing knowing that it isn't going to help.  He'll then put a torx bit onto a ratchet and gently try to loosen those bolts.  The torx bit will break.  The bit breaks because of many things.  Mostly because the never work in high torque situations but other factors are involved.  The recess in the bolt is too shallow because some bean counter didn't think an extra 5/10 of a cent was worth using a quality fastener, with a deep enough recess to allow good purchase of the bit in the fastener.  A plain 'ol hex head bolt would, at least, allow the mechanic to gingerly work the fastener back and forth, giving him a small chance of success.  But they didn't.  The mechanic is now so pissed off the driver has become concerned about their safety.  The mechanic grinds the bit down and tries again after putting a little heat into the parts.  *SNAP*  "FUCK!!!!!"  The mechanic is now going to drill the heads off, remove the air dryer and use vise grips to get the bolts out.  Oh, but wait.  Where in the hell is he going to get M8x160mm bolts at 02:00 on a  Sunday morning?  The longest bolts at the shop are 60mm.  "FUCK!!!"  The mechanic then discovers that there's so much other crap in the way he'll never be able to get a drill in there.  The situation just snowballs.  But, for this case, let's say the mechanic called in some favors and managed to wake up a friend who had some M8 threaded rod.  He has to go and get it, return to the broken vehicle, cut the rod, fit it, install the new air dryer and make sure it works.  Great.  It's all done and working.  Looks like a redneck did the work but at least the truck can roll. 

The bill is handed to the driver and he freaks the fuck out.  The mechanic (already tired, very pissed off and very cold because it's January in Wisconsin) has to explain all of the labor time.  Removal of shitty fasteners, the fastener supply situation, the retrieval of fasteners from far off corners of the county, billing by the hour (explained right at the first phone call but forgotten by the driver), the custom fitting...  The driver ignores the fact they ignored dryer maintenance for years so the whole thing is their fault.  The driver ignores the fact that the mechanic had to get out of bed in the wee hours on a cold January night and has been working in frigid temperatures for hours while he sits in a warm truck.  Yeah, it's all the mechanic's fault.  All mechanics are crooks (said with sarcasm). 

It all comes down to shit design and cost cutting.  I'm quite sure the person responsible for the air dryer design and mounting, while sitting in a clean, comfortable, climate controlled office, never once thought of what their choices would be like five years down the road.  No, that fucker was never going to be dodging cars on the side of an icy interstate highway so why should he care?  The bean counter doesn't care, he's only concerned with keeping costs down so the company profits remain high and many trucks will be sold.  "Fuck service!  Fuck mechanics!  Make it good enough to get through the warranty period.  Who cares after that?"  It ends at the truck's sticker price.  Trucks that are easily serviced and will last for millions of miles can be built.  You wouldn't pay for it.  The price for good design and workmanship would be so high that nobody would buy the trucks.  Think of it in tool terms.  You need a set of wrenches.  The dollar store has a set of wrenches from 1/4" to 1" for $15.  Snap-On sells a 1/4" to 1" set of wrenches for $600.  Which set do you choose?  If you chose the $15 set of wrenches, you're part of the problem.  Sure, they'll work right now and may actually fit fasteners.  They won't last long and you'll soon see why the wrench set was only $15.  The Snap-On wrenches, though initially expensive, will fit properly, will feel good in the hand and will be built so good they'll outlast you, your children and your grandchildren.  And they have a lifetime warranty. 

You need to look to the future.  As you install that exhaust manifold, put some anti-seize on the bolts.  Think of the next guy who will have to take it apart.  Those bolts will break loose, he'll see the silvery remains of anti-seize and he'll thank the mechanic who put those bolts in.  That mechanic will do the same.  It can go the other way of course.  I once was involved in a starter replacement for a dump truck that was in the middle of a muddy field.  The first guy spent two hours trying to get three starter bolts out and was only successful with one.  I came in for the day and was sent out to finish the job.  I had five hours into it and only got one more bolt out.  I had to have the shop bring me bigger tools, I had to heat the shit out of the parts...  The first guy went back the next day and finally got the last bolt out.  You know what he found?  Having been there while the sun was still providing good light, the first mechanic saw that some asshole had put green loctite (bearing retainer) on the bolt threads.  Green!!  What a dick!  It's karma.  Do something to be a little shit and it will come back to you.  If you think taking the extra time will make things easier for the next guy, do it.

12 July, 2016

You Can Do It!

Never, ever believe that you can't do something!  The only limitations you're subjected to are those of your own making.  Whatever it is that you want to learn, you can do it.  To quote Neil Peart (I'm a huge Rush fan) "Throw off those chains of reason and your prison disappears."  Examples.

When I was getting into woodworking in my early twenties, I had very basic skills.  I've written about that subject in previous articles.  I got caught in the "trap" of thinking about power tools.  I had to have a table saw, a planer, a router, a router table, a biscuit joiner, a dovetail jig for the router...  I was influenced by the resources available to me at the time.  "The New Yankee Workshop", the endless stream of magazines and such.  The internet hadn't really taken off at that point so these were my only references.  I made do with the tools I had and the tools I could afford.  It never occurred to me that I could do just as well without electricity.  The younger version of me frequently said things like "The plan calls for dovetails and cherry.  That's way beyond my skill level."  I was limiting myself.  I spent more time worrying about the jigs I would need to build for my power tools than I did making stuff.  Cutting dovetails by hand?  That was only for the masters.  Hogwash! 

As resources on the internet became more numerous I started to see new ways of doing things.  I started to go out on a limb and just try new things for the hell of it.  As far as woodworking is concerned, my watershed moments were learning how to sharpen tools and getting my first jack plane.  I bought a set of decent chisels and a No. 4 smoothing plane early on but was disappointed with those tools.  My "sharpening" was, again, limited by my own brain.  I thought I needed sharpening jigs to get accurate tool geometry.  Wrong.  Once I finally learned what "sharp" means, I never looked back.  Sure, I bought a sharpening jig, but I used sandpaper instead of stones for years.  I also didn't worry about whether I was getting 30 degrees on that chisel or 29 degrees.  I stopped myself from getting bogged down by so many unimportant details.  I learned what "sharp" actually was and then I taught myself to sharpen tools consistently.  Period.  The writings of Christopher Schwarz led me to the jack plane.  Through him I learned that I could flatten boards and/or reduce their thickness with a jack plane.  Learning about the use of jack planes led me to some other basic tools.  The marking gauge for one, winding sticks another.  Both of those simple items (easily made) worked in conjunction with a jack plane to make stock flat and true.  That exercise led into hand saws and the maintenance of hand saws.  The saws led into dovetails.  Dovetails, marking gauges and sharp chisels led into new things.  Things snow-balled.  It's to the point where I hardly use any power tools for woodworking.  I'm not crazy though.  The table saw isn't going anywhere.  But, I threw off the chains I had put on myself and just ran.  "I like that bookcase.  I'm going to make it with nothing but hand tools."  So I did. 

I've also been carving wooden spoons for a few years now.  I never thought I would have been carving spoons.  I tried it once back in the '90s while on a camping trip, but I was trying to replicate what I saw in my Mom's kitchen.  Factory produced spoons.  Not exactly the right thing for a young man with a pocket knife.  Fast forward about fifteen years and I start seeing (and following) a blog by some guy named Peter Follansbee.  I'm not going to explain Peter Follansbee here.  Google is your friend.  Anyway, I read his articles on spoon carving and it caught my interest.  "Oh, so you rough it out with a hatchet.  Makes sense.  Hook knife?  What the heck is that used for... Oh, yeah.  scooping out the spoon's bowl."  I got a couple of hatchets off Ebay but couldn't find a hook (or spoon) knife.  This was just before spoon carving gained popularity and just before the cottage tool makers sprang up.  So, I made my own hook knife.  From experience I had gained from junior high and on, I knew that I had to start with some sort of tool steel.  Something that could be hardened and would hold an edge.  I found a bunch of sharpening steels (used with kitchen knives) in a box of junk someone dumped at the shop.  Perfect material and it was free.  I had never made a knife before but I knew how to anneal steel, work it into shape and then harden it.  The first attempt didn't work, but I learned from it.  The second attempt worked so well that I still use that hook knife.  I made a couple more hook knives just to try different things.  One was good, the other not so good.  I then proceeded to make spoons.  Each spoon I made taught me different things.  I also learned that I could grab a branch that had fallen off a tree and make spoons out of it.  I gave them away as gifts.  I was not prepared for how well they were received.  People love handmade items like spoons.  Each one is different.  I've never even had another person's hand carved spoon in my hands.  I only read about the subject and then went for it.  A hatchet, a couple of knives (and a spokeshave which is easier on my aging hands than a lot of knife work) and some fallen limbs...  It's satisfying for me and it makes other people smile when I give them a spoon. 

Metalworking has been mostly the same story.  Aside from the core skills learned in school, I haven't had anyone to show me things.  It's all been from reading.  Try something new, fuck it up, try again.  Keep pushing the limits and learn new things.  There's no reason you can't do the same.  If you find something that catches your interest research it a little and then do it.  You'll fuck up often but you'll learn from those mistakes and move on.  Each time you learn something, you'll find other things you weren't aware of and that will lead you down other paths.  Just don't limit yourself.

You can build furniture with power tools, you can build furniture with hand tools or maybe mixing the two.  It doesn't matter.  Just try it.  You may fuck up and have nothing but firewood but rest assured, you're not the only one.  I have all sorts of projects that have never seen the light of day.  Just remember, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

Some woodworking resources.  Christopher Scwarz/Lost Art Press, Peter Follansbee, Paul Sellers, Roy Underhill.

Some metalworking resources. Keith Fenner, Keith Rucker, Adam Booth, Tom Lipton, MrPete222 aka Tubalcain.