Archive for October, 2009

A quick thought.

October 28, 2009 Leave a comment

I was at a thrift store yesterday and noticed the oil stains in their parking spots were some of the worst I’ve ever seen; not just a few, but most of them.

Could looking at the oil stains in a business’ parking stalls prove to be a good indicator of the economic status of their patrons? I’m going to start paying more attention to this.

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Cleaning up around the shop.

October 27, 2009 1 comment

How do you like my improvised gin-pole truck?

That was the first of two logs. I needed to carefully place them in a dead-end, tight spot on the property where I have my shop so skidding wouldn’t have worked for me; I didn’t feel like raking the driveway either.

Yes, there seems to be more wood than truck; it’s a case of making do with what’s at hand.

I once had a job where we were routinely asked to move Heaven and Earth using rope and tackles with ten men and a boy to stand in as the prime mover. This little job took me on a stroll down amnesia lane.

If I ever get my hands on a decent (free) winch, I have an old bruiser of a truck to properly fit-out.

Rear view.

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Why you need a blacksmith but don’t know it.

October 25, 2009 2 comments

Some say that self-praise is no praise, but sometimes you have to blow your own horn in order to be heard.

We can employ work methods that have fallen out of use because of changes in technology. Because of this we might see easy solutions where other tradesmen don’t. It’s amazing how the work methods you learn for your trade effect your approaches to problem solving; having a different perspective can make all the difference.

Conventionally trained welders and fabricators will cut, and weld pieces together to make shapes they need; shaping is also be done by simple bending and stock removal by grinding or arc-air gouging. A blacksmith can easily form the work; shape it how he sees fit. Depending on what needs to be done it can be quicker and cheaper than conventional methods.

Example: For a shape such as the flange on an access hole of a tank, a blacksmith can quickly bend a flat bar “the hard way around” while a conventionally trained fabricator will either cut the shape out of a plate or cut several pieces from a flat bar to be welded together in order to create the desired shape; costing more in materials, depending on the method used, and potentially more in labour to clean up the cut edges and weld parts together.

Tool repair: You probably made a cold chisel in shop class so you know that differential heat treating is not witchcraft, but we’re old hands at it. We’re not as precise as metallurgists with their heat-treatment ovens but we might just be able to take that stack of worn air hammer or breaker bits and make them nearly as good as new for a fraction of the cost.

Let’s get something straight: I’m not an anachronist, in fact my formal training is as a pipe welder. I’ve noticed that a lot of people with a background like mine, emphasizing hand work, often forget they live in the 21st century. Knowing archaic work methods can be helpful at times but is counter-productive if more modern, efficient methods are being overlooked; usually because of misguided, romantic notions.

Here’s a perfect example: My forge currently burns propane and will soon be using waste vegetable oil; you won’t see me burning coal unless I’m getting it for free. Coal might seem charming but it’s not so magical to the guy tending the fire. I’m sure propane doesn’t give anybody nostalgic feelings, but there are other things it doesn’t give either: sulphurous smoke or the need for regular tending; it can be turned on or off as easily as the lights.

Another point: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Why do fine filing and hand scraping when machine shops are plentiful and cheap. There is a time and place for this sort of hand work but in the real world, outside of apprentice exercises, they are few and far between.

What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell: We offer conventional skills in addition to a different point of view gained from uncommon talents; resulting in the capability of offering creative, custom solutions for your problems.

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What’s cooking?

October 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I saw a story on the news about a generator fire on a ferry at Swartz Bay but it was light on details.  One thing they did say was that a generator caught fire while they were transferring from shore to ship’s power.

There are a few ways things can go wrong when doing this but the first thought that came to mind was that the ship’s generator might have been brought online before it was properly synchronized with the shore power supply.

You can take multiple AC sources, generators and shore power, and use any combination of them to supply your electrical needs in the most effective, efficient way to suit conditions;  bringing them on and offline as needed to provide uninterrupted power to your electrical system.  So long as a generator’s output is synchronized with the main system before it’s connected, it can be brought online seamlessly.  When it’s done properly it’s a smooth operation.

The excitement comes when you hook the generator up without synchronizing it first because it will be pulled into phase with the main bus rather violently.  Depending on how out of phase the supplies are, and the size of the equipment involved, the side-effects can range from minor to catastrophic.

Another scenario that could occur in this situation:

If the generator’s engine failed while it was connected in parallel with the shore power (during the switch-over) then the generator itself would remain in phase with, and be driven by the shore power connection; effectively behaving like an electric motor.  I guess that’s why it’s called “motoring.”  There are ways to protect against this (reverse power relays) but I don’t know how things are commonly done on ships; all I ever did on a ship was cook.

It just happens that there will be a marine engineer and an electrician at the Thanksgiving supper I’ll be attending this weekend so I can pick their brains.

Anyway…In this situation the consequences can range from minor to catastrophic depending on how the generator is regulated, whether the generator field remains excited, and just why the engine died.

I’m no electrician, but as a welder I do get to play with generators now and then…and I do love to speculate…

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A run-in with Johnny(Johannes) Law in Delft

October 8, 2009 2 comments

Once, at the end of a day-trip to Delft, I needed to use a toilet while waiting for the train.  There was a WC on the platform but you needed to pay to use with a coin; 50 Euro-Cents I think.

I put my money in but the door wouldn’t open.  I took a peek into the coin slot and saw my coin jammed in the slot with another; at this point I noticed that the slot had been taped over but peeled away by somebody.  I wasn’t going to let some damned toilet steal my money so I pulled out my big, bad pocket knife and set about getting my coin.

After a little bit of digging I heard some yelling in the station but didn’t think much of it; it was kind of busy.  I was very focused on the task at hand and it took another few moments to realize that the yelling was going on very close to me.  I looked up and saw a very angry looking policeman trying to get my attention from a safe distance.  I folded my knife and put it back in my pocket.

He asked me what I was doing so I said that the toilet stole my money….this sounds really lame…I’m going to jail.  The officer asked what the Hell I was talking about so I showed him the two jammed coins, the torn tape, and explained that I was trying to my money back.

He didn’t say anything.  I was having a staring match with a policeman and I’m sweating bullets.  The man just kept staring….I’m going to see a Dutch police station from the inside…I’m sure they’re really clean but was beyond caring at that point….and he just stared.

I considered my options:  Breaking down in tears, running for it or throwing myself in front of the next passing train.  They were all lousy options but the staring was unbearable.  I knew I was lucky in a way:  Back home a policeman would have explained the folly of my actions after I regained consciousness.  No concussion here, just a man boring a hole through me with a glare that could kill.

Just when I thought my snapping point had come, he told me not to just stand there and go get the coin back.  He stood there as I fished it out and suggested, to wait, if I could, and use the washroom on the train.  I went on my way home and I even got to keep my pocket knife!

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