View Full Version : More on tools

06 October 2010, 0938
Ed's plasma post got me going on tools. My first post is here (what was I thinking I could do all my fave tools in one post?):

Cool Tools- Essentials for the Builder

…and some not too essentials.

Let’s be honest. Any decent project is really a thinly veiled excuse to buy new, fun tools, right? If you have your own shop, you may have some basics already, but there are a few tools that I used constantly. In some cases I had them, and used what I had, but in others I replaced old, worn items or had to find a source for some specialized tools.

The first, and probably most frequently used tool was the soldering iron. I had an old, dirty pencil iron around of unknown power, and just could not solder up a good connection with it. I tried cleaning the tip with a file, I tried replacing the tip. Then I gave up and tossed it.

I picked up a basic 40W pencil iron with one of these brass sponge tip cleaners, and it worked great. I found, especially since I rewired my 12V harness, I used this constantly soldering splices together, then heat shrinking insulation on them. With a new, clean and sufficiently powerful iron I was able to make fast, solid splices at record speed.

The second tool you need for the splicing is a good heat gun. You can try using matches, lighters, or some other heat source to heat heat-shrink insulation, but it’s a waste of time. You need high heat, applied evenly, with control to avoid over-heating. A decent heat gun is essential.

Funny- I never got into using a wire stripper or a crimping tool for my smaller wires. I just use a knife, and crimp the connectors with a pliers that has a little bump on the inside of the jaws, but if you want to do it fast and right, one of those wire connector/crimping kits would be a great thing.

Some notes- on soldering, first. Remember the importance of “tinning” the iron. Tinning starts you off with a nice clean coating of liquid solder. When you have some liquid solder the heat transmits to the work faster, and the work heats more completely. I’ll often load a little drop of solder on the tip, and let that drop envelop and heat the work, until it simply flows into the splice making a perfect soldered joint. Second, on those crimp connectors, I cut off the plastic insulation on them and replace it with heat shrink. I also solder them. It’s obsessive, probably, but it makes a good, clean, positive connection that looks neat. I started doing this because of the many times I thought I had a good crimped connection that fell apart in my hands.

On the question of crimping, soldering, and crimping with soldering- in particular your bigger cables.

Wars have been fought over less. The smaller connections I do solder and crimp. The bigger ones I just crimp. A good crimp is a fine connection, and it’s easy to see that it’s positive on a big cable. Soldering it is a tricky job. You run the risk of making a bad joint since it’s so big, and you can melt the insulation. I opted out of the additional work and risks, but a good soldered and crimped joint is at least equal to a good crimped connector.

The crimp tool I used for the big, 4 Gauge cables was this little thing from a supplier on Ebay. I also found this one, from West Marine, which is considerably more expensive, but also works really well. This shot also shows the heat shrink in position for final assembly after the crimp is made.

One of the common jobs in this kind of project is cutting metal. If you have a nice metal-bladed bandsaw, that’s certainly the way to go, but there are two hand power tools that work really well. The first is a small jigsaw- usually under $50, you can fit these with a metal cutting blade, and running them a slow speed with some good, solid force applied they do a fine job, and will fill in admirably for their big band saw brother, especially for cutting curves. (One thing about cutting metal- using high speed with light pressure will actually work-harden steel. Whatever you’re doing, whether cutting or drilling, you want to use low speed and high pressure to let the blade cut the steel without heating and hardening it. Using oil or cutting fluid helps as well.)

The other tool I used, and in particular in the process of taking the old motor out of the frame, was none other than my big old Sawzall. A Sawzall with a metal blade can cut virtually anything. A blessing, yes, but also a curse. With great cutting power comes great responsibility.

As far as my basic shop setup goes, the most important tool there is my drill press, outfitted with a good, solid vise. I use it constantly, and I even have it outfitted with bores, milling bits and taps. If you’ve never seen someone use a drill press to tap a hole, you’ve missed one of the great bits of style and grace in the workshop. You drill the hole. You switch out the drill with a tap without moving the work. You spin up the tap, cut the power and feed it into the hole with just enough pressure to start the tap and let it pull itself into the hole. You get a perfect thread, if you do it right, and it’s fast.

One thing I feel you don’t need is a welder. Although you may want a welder, (and who doesn’t), welding is a skill that takes years to learn. Making joints, and understanding if a joint is solid and will stand the vibrations and twisting forces of use and time, is something that only experience can tell you. Welds in critical applications are tested in ways a home builder can only dream of, and welding anything that is critical to the safety of the bike needs to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Beyond that, a good, state-of-the-art welder is a few thousand dollars, and anything else is, well, “working in the Stone Age” as my (motorcycle frame fabricator) friend Keith Loomer will tell you. It’s tempting to go pick up a cheap little stick or wire-feed MIG welder, and I think you should. And use it on your lawn sculpture. For steel, the best “welder” for you bike is the guy down the street who’s a certified professional. If your frame is aluminum, I can’t be too emphatic. Professional welding is your only reasonable choice.

Hand tools- there’s a good reason why electrician’s tools have rubber handles. When you can, get them with rubber, and with pliers and screwdrivers it’s not a problem. With wrenches it’s not going to be possible. The problem is when you have one end of a tool completing a circuit through the other end- the wrench becomes part of the circuit, and you along with it. It’s certainly a good idea to wrap the handle of the wrench with a rubber or vinyl tape or cover it with a heat-shrink, but I’d go one step further and cover up one whole end of the wrench. This is going to limit you to one-ended wrenches, but it’s the safest way to go.

The tape you can use for wrapping the tools, as well as general electrical use, should be the 3M Scotch 33+ Professional Grade Vinyl. There is also liquid rubber-type insulation- dip the handles into the stuff, or paint it on, and you’re good. Several guys I’ve talked to use rubber work gloves. I don’t, I just can’t work with them, but it’s certainly the safest possible way to go about it.

(the original post is here, with the photos: http://evmc2.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/cool-tools-essentials-for-the-builder/)

06 October 2010, 0938
Part 2:

MORE Cool Tools!
Here’s more.

Air tools-

Assuming you have a good compressor (if you don’t, well, clearly you need one. Yes, you can say that I told you so.) then there are some nice little trinkets that you can get to make the most of it. Great for a Santa, by the way- none of them are really expensive.

You can certainly do most of your painting with a spray bomb, but grabbing a good spray gun is a lot of fun. Like welding, it’s certainly a skill that takes a lot of time to learn to do right, and you need a good dust-free space to work in, yet is well ventilated, but the buffing wheel and 1000 grit wet sanding forgives a lot of sins. It’s short money- maybe around $50 for a moderately good one, and you can pick it up at the local hardware store.

A little harder to find is a sandblaster gun. For stripping rust and paint from a frame, there’s nothing that works better. Most sandblasting is done in a booth, designed for capturing and re-using the grit, but you can fashion an enclosure outside where you may be able to clean up and re-use the abrasive. Do not try using it indoors, unless you want everything you own covered in a fine abrasive powder. They’re cheap- the grit will cost more than the gun. Use sand for stripping paint and rust, and glass beads for polishing and surfacing aluminum. A sandblasted metal surface is possibly the all-time best surface to paint. It’s clean, has a bit of a tooth, but is smooth. Primer loves it. I found some nice little guns at Harbor Freight and Northern Tool.

The right-angle die grinder is one of the sweetest little metal-working tools in existence. It takes a little abrasive disk that is easily changed, and ranges from light sandpaper to heavy grinding. You could use it to strip an entire frame if you don’t have a sandblaster, or grind down welds, cut brackets, buff out tight spots or strip rust. They’re designed for polishing and shaping, usually steel dies for molding, so they’re unbelievably versatile.

Fair waring. If you have one of these, and you have a teenage boy in the shop, lock this up.

Don’t forget, by the way, the importance of a good water and particle filter/trap in your air lines as well as your periodic lubrication of all your rotary tools. It’s easy to overlook, but will shorten the life of anything that spins dramatically. Use the correct air-tool lubricant, too.

Let’s talk meters. A decent voltmeter is essential, both for troubleshooting and for simple double-checking. Most all meters measure ohms, or resistance, too, as well has having a continuity tester that simply beeps or lights when you have a good circuit. They're called Volt-Ohm Meters, or VOM, and you needs.

Another nice meter is called an inductive amp meter. Measuring your amp draw under load is a little tricky- you have to actually measure it in-line with the circuit and use a shunt to keep the meter from overloading. An easy way to get around that is to use an inductive meter that measures the field around a wire to gauge the amps in the wire. Here’s what they look like- the lobster claw affairs clamp around the cable you’re reading. It’s a really good idea to rig one of these up on your bike at least once when you’re first riding it. It will tell you volumes about how much you’re tapping the battery pack when you’re honking on the throttle. I don’t run it all the time, but the few times I had it rigged taught me a lot about how to ride for range. It can also be used to figure out how much your lights draw, whether HID lights, for example, are worth it, like that.

No discussion of tools is complete without mention of the BFH.

The BFH stands for Big (insert favorite F-word here) Hammer. The BFH is derived from the legendary premise that, if brute force can’t fix something, more brute force can- “If brute force can’t fix it, you’re not applying enough…” Jokes aside, there’s no substitute for the mass of a nice hand sledge, brass hammer or the like. Here’s how this works. If you need to give something a good, but tactful pop, and you’re using a small hammer, you have to swing it hard. Swinging it hard makes you have less control. Applying force with a nice, heavy (read: lots of mass) hammer means you can tap it ever so lightly, very precisely, and yet get enough force to get the job done.

Brass hammers are for pounding on steel without denting it, brass being softer than steel. Rubber mallets are good for when you’re pounding on soft material like plastics, aluminum or wood, but they don’t have much weight, usually.

Oh yeah, and that teenager? Chances are, he’s already stolen it from your toolbox.

06 October 2010, 1533
Now MY head hurts......

Interesting info Ted.

06 October 2010, 2148
But you forgot the most important tool, the thinking stool.

Thanks for originally posting this one on the old site Travis....

07 October 2010, 0253
So, Co-op metal fabrication shops. Anybody know of any in their neighborhood? Alex uses one I think, I heard there is one opening up in Boston. They're not easy to find on the Google... Of course, there's the adult-ed trade school option, to get access to the tools if you don't have them, or the space.