Coming in at 125 cubic centimeters displacement, [Keith Harlow]’s fuel injected masterpiece isn’t too far from the size of some motor scooter engines. We doubt the local Vespa club would look upon it as legit mod, but we’d love to see it. [Keith]’s build log is a long series of forum posts, but from what we’ve seen it looks like every part was made by hand with the exception of the fuel injection system. Even the caps for the spark plugs were custom injection molded right in [Keith]’s shop. And it appears that no CNC was used – even those intake headers and the rotors for the supercharger were hogged out of aluminum using a manual mill. The exhaust headers alone are straight up works of art. There’s a staggering amount of work here, which begs the question: why? The answer in this case is obviously, “Because he can.”
Few builds compare to the level of craftsmanship on display here. The Clickspring skeleton clock comes to mind, but for model engine builds we’d have to point to [Keith]’s earlier 1/4-scale V8 engine. And we’ll hasten to add that as much time as [Keith] has spent building these works of mechanical art, he’s probably dedicated just as much time to documenting them and giving back to his community. We can all learn a lesson from that.
If you have even a passing interest in machining, you owe it to yourself to watch the entire 23 episode playlist. The level of craftsmanship that [Chris] displays in every episode, both in terms of the clock build and the production values of his videos is truly something to behold. The clock started as CAD prints glued to brass plates as templates for the scroll saw work that roughed out the frames and gears. Bar stock was turned, parts were threaded and knurled, and gear teeth were cut. Every screw in the clock was custom made and heat-treated to a rich blue that contrasts beautifully with the mirror polish on the brass parts. Each episode has some little tidbit of precision machining that would make the episode worth watching even if you have no interest in clocks. For our money, the best moment comes in episode 10 when the bezel and chapter ring come together with a satisfying click.
We can gather that [Stefan] is a professional machinist by trade. Like all professionals who do the same thing for work and play, he was spoiled by the nicer tools at work. One tool in particular, a toolmaker’s magnet, always came in handy. These are strong magnets that have been ground flat, square, and parallel.
He really only needed one magnet, so he started to build a 20 x 20 x 100 mm one. It would be made out of alternating mild steel and brass plates. The steel plates would have a hole drilled through them and he’d place a correctly oriented magnet in the middle. It would all be clamped and glued together.
The build was going pretty well when he decided that he couldn’t really trust the glue alone. He had just begun grinding, but decided to switch to a quick drilling operation. Two brass rods through the whole assembly would be enough to hold it together. He started drilling, and then, suddenly, he had two magnets.
The assembly had broken in half. He decided that, all things considered, two 20 x 20 x 50 mm magnets were also handy. So he completed the drilling, and ground the new set of magnets to be a perfect match to each other. In the end he had a tool that looks just as expensive as the commercial option. There is also a video series on the magnets, part 1 and part 2, viewable after the break.
Is it possible to make an entertaining video about turning a cube of aluminum into a slightly cubier cube? As it turns out, yes it is, and you might even learn something along with the sight gags and inside jokes if you watch [This Old Tony] cover the basics of squaring up stock.
Whether you’re working in wood or metal, starting with faces that are flat, smooth and perpendicular is the key to quality results. [Tony] is primarily a machinist, so he works with a nice billet of aluminum and goes through some of the fundamental skills every metalworker needs to know. When you’re working down to the thousandths of an inch it’s easy to foul up, and tricks such as using a ball bearing between the vise jaws and the stock to prevent canting are critical skills. He covers tramming the mill, selecting which faces to cut and in which order, and ways to check your work on the surface plate and make any corrections if and when things go wrong. Look for cameos by fellow machinist [Abom79] and [Stefan Gotteswinter], including one with [Stefan] in a very compromising position. But a ball in a vise and no [AvE] reference? C’mon!
[Tony] makes a potentially tedious subject pretty entertaining by keeping things light, and we appreciate both the humor and attention to detail. He’s turned out some great videos that we’ve covered before, like making your own springs or a shop-built boring head, and his stuff is really worth checking out.
You don’t need any fancy tools. A CNC machine is nice. A 3D printer can help. Laser cutters are just great. However, when it comes to actually making something, none of this is exactly necessary. With a basic set of hand tools and a few simple power tools, most of which can be picked up for a pittance, many things of surprising complexity, precision, and quality can be made.
A while back I was working on a ring light for my 3D printer. I already had a collection of LEDs, as all hackers are weak for a five-dollar assortment box. So I got on my CAD software of choice and modeled out a ring that I was going to laser cut out of plywood. It would have holes for each of the LEDs. To get a file ready for laser cutting ook around ten minutes. I started to get ready to leave the house and do the ten minute drive to the hackerspace, the ten minutes firing up and using the laser cutter (assuming it wasn’t occupied) and the drive back. It suddenly occurred to me that I was being very silly. I pulled out a sheet of plywood. Drew three circles on it with a compass and subdivided the circle. Under ten minutes of work with basic layout tools, a power drill, and a coping saw and I had the part. This was versus the 40 minutes it would have taken me to fire up the laser cutter.
A lot of the tools we use today were made to win against economies of scale. However, we’re often not doing any of that. We’re building one or two. Often the sheer set-up cost isn’t worth it. Likewise, the skill from being able to do it without the machine will come in handy. There’s an art to using a file properly and getting the expected result. So it’s good to take the time now to practice and develop the manual skills, you never know when you’ll be out trying to do an emergency fit on a part and no one in the area has a single milling machine just sitting around.
So what tools would a hacker need to get the closest to a machine shop without having one or spending too much money? For most needs a person can build a surprising amount of things with nothing more than the following tools.
Basic Metrology: Now if you really want to do precision work you may need more expensive tools, but often we are just spoiled by precision. We can design our parts with a little more wiggle room and just spend the time adjusting them.
Calipers – Since they are so cheap now, there is no reason not to own a simple digital or dial caliper. For most work this will be able to measure most things well enough for all practical purposes. Honestly if you’re building something that needs a full metrology suite you’re probably making it hard on yourself. This even goes for production work.
Rule – Not a ruler. A steel rule. This will have a ground flat edge and precise graduations. You can use this for layout.
Square – A carpenter’s combination square can be used for a lot of layout. It’s not as fantastically precise as a real machinists square, but I’ve yet to ever actually need the precision of a real machinist’s square for every day hacking.
Compass & Protractor – To be able to layout circles and angles is key. Buy a robust one rather than a nice one. The kind for school children is pretty good.
Scribe and Punch- Pencil and Permanent Marker- In lieu of layout fluid a permanent marker is enough to bring out scribed lines on metal. A pencil is great for the rest of the materials. Lastly a punch is essential for drilling holes.
Glue stick – With CAD software as amazing and free as it is there’s no reason not to just print out a template and glue it to your part. Contact cement or a simple glue stick is all you need
Working: Next comes working the material itself. Hand working typically happens in two steps. Bulk removal and fine removal. To do the first you need good layout and a bit of experience. To do the second you need even better layout, a godlike amount of patience, a strong back (or a workbench at the right height) and a way to hold the part firmly.
Stubby Knife (and cut proof gloves) – A knife that lets you get your fingers close to the work, such as an exacto blade or a utility knife. That being said I’m lucky to still have digits with full working ranges. It doesn’t matter how careful you are, it is statistically impossible to not eventually cut yourself with a knife. It then comes down to how damaging that cut will be. Most will hit the flesh of the hand and be relatively harmless, just painful. However, if you hit a tendon say goodbye to full range of motion forever and hello to surgery and picking up an instrument (source: Grew up with an occupational therapist as a parent, that’ll scare the gloves on ya). To that end I highly recommend a good set of kevlar cut-proof gloves. My absolute favorite is the Ansell Blue Nitrile Coated Kevlar HyFlex glove. They’re pricey but they last forever (I would go through five sets of leather gloves in the time it took me to start to see wear on the HyFlex) and give practically normal range of motion and feel for the work.
Big File – A coarse bastard file is a must have. If you can only afford one get one with a flat side and a round side. It will be a little difficult not to cut into right angles, but a bit of masking tape or a section of plastic can help with this. Also, the traditional brands like Nicholson can no longer be trusted, do some research before paying more than five bucks for a regular file these days. Only a few brands deliver a long-lasting file. Lastly, watch a few videos on the proper use of a file. If you do it right they’ll cut fast and last a long time.
Round File – A round file is useful for a staggering amount of things, but mostly for fitting holes and shaping radii.
Little Files – I recommend spending a bit on a nice quality set. One small round, small triangle, and small-D shaped file is a good start. I’d also recommend a small flat file with a safe side for sharpening corners.
Japanese Pull Saw – Wood is a great prototyping material and there is no better saw for general woodworking than a Japanese pull saw. If you want to get deeper into the craft then there is a reason for the other saws, but general joints, shaping, etc can be done quickly and precisely with the saw.
Hacksaw – A hacksaw can cut through any material as long as you buy the right blade and are willing to sweat. A good hacksaw frame can put a lot of tension on a blade without a lot of added bulk. If it has both a lever action and a thumb screw it is likely to be able to do this. A good hacksaw blade is almost never sold with the frame.
Coping Saw – Think of a coping saw as a manual laser cutter. There are some nice ones out there, but the blade is the important thing to buy. Weirdly they are getting harder to find these days. I think less people are using them but no shop should be without a coping saw.
Plier Set – A set of pliers. Needle Nose, End Cutters, Side Cutters, and Lineman’s is a good place to start.
Tongs – I define a tong as any plier that you’re going to heat up. Keep this one separate from your regular pliers. It’s also good for holding something while you beat on it with a hammer. You’ll probably break it eventually.
Clamp or Vise – No shop should be without some way of holding a piece firmly. This is one of your most important tools. Really high quality ones usually show up at garage sales or Craigslist; sold by ignorant family members. Look for one that has nice thick jaws and a flat area on the back.
Hammer and Scrap Wood – You’d be amazed at the shapes a person can draw out of regular sheet stock with a hammer and scrap wood. This is a must have for the shop. A regular claw hammer and a ball peen are an absolute necessity.
Modern Day Luxuries: There’s no need to stay completely manual though. With Horrible Freight right around the corner or slightly better alternatives for a premium at the home improvement shop there’s no need to to have a few modern luxuries.
Dremel – A cheap rotary tool will make quick work of a lot of shaping tasks. Definitely saves time and there are some things that can’t be done economically without one. Also good for feeding an endless stream of cutting disks into to cut sheet stock without deforming it. Saves time on polishing too if you want to get fancy. Have to be careful not to waste too much time setting-up and forcing this tool to do the work. It’s often considerably underpowered compared to some sweat and hand files.
Power Drill and Bits – There is absolutely no reason not to have a decent power drill these days. Get a corded one if you can’t swing the money for a nicer model cordless. This will drill holes, sand, and occasionally act as a shitty lathe. Especially handy if you just want to bring something round into a tolerance for some sort of fit. Get a decent set of drill bits unless you hate yourself. I bought a 30 dollar set with decent coatings and have been replacing the individual bits with their higher quality counterparts as I burn through them. I’m currently on my third 1/8th inch bit.
Pencil Torch – Lastly a good quality torch or pencil torch does wonders. I burned through a few cheaper torches before I finally dropped a hundred dollars on a good quality Portasol. With a torch one can heat treat metals, solder, braze, and more. A person can cut plastics, weld plastics, and shrink heat shrink. It’s an essential tool.
For the rest I wouldn’t go nuts. I’d file them under, “buy as you need”. Of course there are things like screwdrivers etc. but this was intended for shaping operations, not general repair. I would recommend buying, not a tap and die set exactly, but picking a size of fastener (in my case, M3, M6, and M8) and buying the tap, die, and drill set for those.
In the end most prototyping, even today, ends up with a hacker having to still do some 19th century work to get it to fit. However, if you’ve ever seen a real watchmaker at work, you’ll know just how ridiculously far you can get on knowledge of metal backed up by skill with a file.
I know there are a lot of you out there with more and similar experience than I have with this sort of thing. At what point do you resort to modern tools? Any tasks that you found went faster the old-fashioned way? Any tools that I missed? Hand work isn’t a fading skill by any measure, but it’s easy to forget about it with 3D printers as cheap as they are. However, for any technical person it adds instant worth and a far deeper understanding of design and fabrication if you can do it by hand.
[This Old Tony] was cleaning up his metal shop after his yearly flirtation with woodworking when he found himself hankering for a nice coffee. He was, however, completely without a coffee making apparatus. We imagine there was a hasty round of consulting with his inanimate friends [Optimus Prime] and [Stefan Gotteswinter Brush] before he decided the only logical option was to make his own.
So, he brought out two chunks of aluminum from somewhere in his shop, modeled up his plan in SolidWorks, and got to work. It was designed to be a moka style espresso pot sized around both the size of stock he had, and three purchased parts: the gasket, funnel, and filter. The base and top were cut on a combination of lathe and mill. He had some good tips on working with deep thin walled parts. He also used his CNC to cut out some parts, like the lid and handle. The spout was interesting, as it was made by building up a glob of metal using a welder and then shaped afterward.
As usual the video is of [This Old Tony]’s exceptional quality. After quite a lot of work he rinsed out most of the metal chips and WD40, packed it with coffee, and put it on the stove. Success! It wasn’t long before the black stuff was bubbling into the top chamber ready for consumption.
He was looking enviously at the squareness comparator that [Tom Lipton] had made when somone on Instagram posted a photo of the comparator they use every day. [Stefan] loved the design and set out to build one of his own. He copied it shamelessly, made a set of drawings, and got to work.
[Stefan]’s videos are always a trove of good machine shop habits and skills. He always shows how being careful, patient, and doing things the right way can result in really astoundingly precise work out of a home machine shop. The workmanship is beautiful and his knack for machining is apparent throughout. We chuckled at one section where he informed the viewer that you could break a tap on the mill when tapping under power if you bottom out. To avoid this he stopped at a distance he felt was safe: 0.5 mm away.
The construction and finishing complete, [Stefan] shows how to use the comparator at the end of the video, viewable after the break.
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