SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.

4/17/2007

Dreaming of mini machine tools!


Last night, I (finally!) started on the construction of my DIY LED bike headlamp, which requires precise, right-angle saw cuts into a length of square aluminum tubing. Having only a hacksaw, I flubbed this up fairly badly and I will either need to cut a new piece, or use lots of silicone caulk to make the housing waterproof. This incident made me wonder how the hobbyist (read: on a budget) can produce precise cuts in metal? I know that there are low-cost, simple mitre boxes used with back saws to make cuts in wood, but these are often plastic or aluminum and would get shredded by a hacksaw blade... I started poking around on the interweb to see what I could find, and of course I ended up reading some posts on the rec.crafts.metalworking group, which didn't lead to anything hand-tool related...but certainly did whet my appetite for machine tools!


As long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with metal-cutting machine tools. When I was about 4 or 5, I remember my dad taking an old dead lawnmower to Goodwill or somesuch, and when it wouldn't fit in the trunk of the family car due to the length of the handle, he muttered something about cutting it off. I was in disbelief -- "Daddy, you can't cut metal!" I remember saying. He whipped out the hacksaw and cut the handle off the mower. I was amazed.

Years later as a young teenager, I had an uncle who was a pipe-fitter at a manufacturing plant. Due to some downsizing or other restructuring by his employer (I don't remember), he had to train as a weldor so he could perform both the pipe-fitting and welding functions in his job. Whenever we visited, he'd let me "play" with his oxy-acetylene torch, teaching me how to cut up scrap metal so he could haul it off for recycling. He once fired up his stick-welding unit and helped me make a little project, letting me wear the huge, dark face mask and guiding the electric-arc torch as I held it -- I really couldn't see what I was doing!

As an older teenager, I built random projects during summer breaks from school. A friend and I successfully built a recumbent trike from random iron pipe and an old Free Spirit ten-speed; it was held together with only nuts and bolts, but it worked! The family power drill was the only power tool I had access to and it was seriously abused in both drilling, sanding, and grinding functions. Many hacksaw blades were sacrificed to that project, and we bent the pipe used for the frame tubing by wedging it in the "V" of a large old forked tree trunk and yanking it by hand.


Studying engineering in college, I spent as much time as possible in the student machine shop in the sub-basement of Benedum Hall at the University of Pittsburgh. I wanted to learn about the huge lathes and milling machines, which to me represented complete "DIY freedom" and the power to make nearly anything! Unfortunately, machining technology was not part of the curriculum at that school, so my time in that shop was strictly limited to working on only a few simple school projects.

I've always wanted my own machine shop. These days, I'm fascinated by bicycle framebuilders who manage to gather together several large machine tools in a basement or shed...but since I live in an apartment, I doubt I'll be able to do this myself anytime in the near future.


However, I've recently learned that there are such things as mini machine tools -- bench-top drill presses, lathes, mills, saws, etc. Though certainly not professional quality, these tools are small and light enough that they can be stored away on a shelf or in a cabinet and pulled out when needed. They're also fairly low-cost, so getting a couple of key pieces (e.g., saw and drill press) would only run $200-300 or so. There are also low-cost mini-machines that combine drilling/milling/turning functions in one unit!

I think a shop-setup like this would be ideal for making small parts for bicycle accessories and the like!

4 Comments:

Blogger cyclofiend said...

I think you need a Dynafile, too...

11:06 AM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Sure, a Dynafile would be great, but then I'd have to buy an air compressor, too. I might invest in the budget version, AKA the infamous Dremel tool. ;)

11:35 AM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Here's another fun related website http://www.littlemachineshop.com/

11:48 AM  
Blogger Jim G said...

Another interesting site: http://craftsmanshipmuseum.com/oldmachines.htm

12:30 PM  

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