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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Your Car’s Paint is Crap, and You are Going to Die

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Car Paint Poisons Make Arsenic Look Tempting

This week I gathered information about car paint. It looks like the things I wrote a few days back are pretty much correct. Two-stage paint (base plus clear coat) is crap, at least when you buy it on a new car from a manufacturer that doesn’t care about quality. It WILL fail if you put it in the sun long enough, no matter what you do, and unlike old-fashioned paint, it can’t be fixed.

People buy expensive waxes and treatments, and they pamper their cars, thinking it will keep the clear coat from peeling. It doesn’t work. The only thing that works is keeping the car indoors. Good luck with that, if you have a big vehicle.

Last night I watched a Youtube video from Eastwood, a company bodywork hobbyists love. A professional painter appeared in the video, and he provided the information I relayed above. He said carmakers do calculations. They ask themselves, “How much money do we have to put in the finish to make sure it doesn’t fall apart during the warranty period?” Then they spend that amount of money (exactly) knowing their cars will peel.

Also, they like 2-stage paint because it’s easy to apply. It requires less skill. Here’s what Eastwood says:

Most antique and muscle cars were painted with a single stage paint from the factory where color & gloss is achieved in one paint. While more affordable and producing a factory-like finish, it’s also less forgiving. You will need to have good painting technique to achieve even color and gloss.

Evidently, they could do better if they wanted. Thicker clear coat would last longer, and they can put additives in it and apply it better. They choose to stick it to us instead. That’s highly disturbing.

You can walk down any street and see old cars with original lacquer paint that looks okay. You can get thirty or forty years out of an old-fashioned paint job, if you wax it and give it a buffing when absolutely necessary. But with all the progress we’ve made since then, you can’t make a new American car’s paint last even fifteen years in a sunny climate.

If you take your peeling car to a painter and have him fix it–$1500 and up–he can do a better job than Dodge or GM. Your paint will last longer. It’s hard to believe the manufacturers don’t even try. Evidently, in addition to skimping on clear coat thickness, they use water-based two-stage paints which don’t adhere well. If you go to a painter, he’ll use something with solvents in it, and the quality will be superior. So carmakers aren’t even trying.

The news gets even better.

The paint they use now is like epoxy. You have to mix it with a product that makes it harden on your car. That product is full of chemicals called isocyanates, and they’re so poisonous it’s a wonder they’re legal. You can develop a life-threatening allergy to them the first time you inhale them, and guess what? You’ve already been exposed! Unless you live in a hole.

If you’ve ever used Great Stuff foam, or you’ve been in your home when someone used spray foam in an attic or wall, you’ve inhaled isocyanates. You can develop the allergy and the asthma it causes years later, so you may have a nice present awaiting you.

Once the problem manifests, you’ll get sick every time you get near isocyanates, so don’t walk past a body shop if you know what’s good for you.

I’ve used Great Stuff many times, and I’ve gotten it on me. I had an A/C duct foamed in by a contractor, and they didn’t tell me to leave the house. I’ve mixed 2K (two-part) primer without a mask. I’ve sprayed it without a suit. Oh, well. Let’s hope I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t get sick.

Here are some horrible things I learned about 2K paint:

1. You have to wear a suit (with gloves) and use a supplied air respirator with a hood if you want to be safe. Charcoal masks from Home Depot don’t give adequate protection, although you will see people using them on TV all the time. A supplied air system will run you at least $400. It’s a little machine with a blower and a hose. It pumps air into your hood to keep poison out.

2. You can absorb isocyanates through any exposed surface, so if you’ve sprayed with any skin exposed, you’ve danced with the devil. Fabrics don’t stop this stuff. You have to wear something like Tyvek.

3. You have to wear protection even when you’re mixing paint, sanding dried paint, or cleaning your tools.

With all this terrifying information in front of me, I’m wondering why anyone would go near 2K paint. Exposures add up, and one day you cross a line that’s invisible. Then you have the allergy, and you may have permanent lung damage. It’s strange that people choose to paint as a career.

Here’s something weird: supposedly the greenies had a hand in popularizing isocyanates. There was some environmental issue with the older paints. It made the bunnies and flowers sad, I guess.

That makes complete sense, now that I think about it. If 2K paint kills human beings but saves snail darters and certain subspecies of cockroach, to a greenie, it’s win-win.

I was hoping to get my motorcycle parts painted. Now I’m wondering if it’s worth the risk. I’m also wondering if anyone out there is making any effort to come up with an isocyanate replacement that isn’t completely evil.

So to sum up: your car’s paint is probably garbage, and if you park it in the sun, it will peel off no matter what you do. If it peels, you have to do a complete paint job; there is no way to repair clear coat. If you paint it yourself, you will push yourself closer to developing a horrible allergy that can cause you to collapse and suffocate.

My truck already has some little peeled areas. I can’t even guess what it would cost to paint it. I feel like having it redone in lacquer or some other primitive finish. Nothing could be worse than 2K. Maybe it won’t be as shiny, but I never wash it anyway.

The Answer Isn’t Clear

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Paint Delamination is Now as Certain as Death and Taxes

You won’t believe this. I’m picking one of my old hobbies up again.

That’s so out of character for me.

A very long time ago, I decided to put new side covers on my Moto Guzzi. The model I bought came with terrible, cheap side covers that crack and fall off. The problem is so bad, some guy on the Internet makes money selling covers he makes from thick fiberglass. I bought two.

Problem: the covers weren’t painted. So I found a source of base coat/clear coat products, and I bought paint. Then I procrastinated for practically ever. Then I went back to the project, bought the correct primer, and primed and sanded the covers. I didn’t quite finish. I sanded through the primer in a couple of places on one cover.

That’s where I stopped. Since then, the project has been in the gravity well of the black hole where my hobbies vanish.

I was intimidated by the prep work. I hate painting to begin with, because it’s very hard to do correctly. I hated priming and sanding the covers, because it was a big, tedious job. I thought I would have to repeat it with the paint and clear coat.

Sadly, I was laboring under a delusion.

My motorcycle painting knowledge came from a set of DVD’s made by a motorcycle painter named Fritz. The DVD’s are really good, but they weren’t completely applicable to my project. I didn’t know that.

Fritz didn’t use clear coat. He sprayed his stuff with primer, sanded it, sprayed it with some color or other, sanded it, applied graphics, sprayed it with another color, sanded it…he did a lot of sanding. I figured I would have to do that with my base coat and clear coat, and that would be a lot of work. Also, I would be pretty likely to have to do a lot of it over, because I would surely sand through something.

I was thinking about it today. I realized the DVD’s didn’t depict the kind of work I was going to do. I decided to check something out. I Googled to see if it was necessary to sand the base coat in a base coat/clear coat application. Guess what? It’s not.

Car makers like base coat/clear coat (“BC/CC” or “2-stage”) paint, because it’s cheap and requires little skill compared to real paint. The primer has to be done well, and the clear coat has to be done well. The base coat is just slopped on. You don’t have to sand it, because (apparently) the clear coat covers the crappiness of the base coat surface. And supposedly, clear coat is thick, so you stand a pretty good chance of sanding and buffing it to perfection without blowing through it.

Personally, I do not like clear coat. It always, always goes bad sooner or later, even if you wax it, unless you never park in the sun. When it goes bad and peels, it can’t be fixed. You have to sand it off and replace it, and that means redoing the base coat as well. You can’t dissolve it, so it’s impossible to paint more clear coat over it, expecting the new clear coat to bond with the old. It will just sit on top, so in order to fix a small peeled area, you may have to repaint an entire hood or door.

That’s just stupid.

Old-style paint is different. If you screw up an area, you can sand it back and paint over it. If you have to completely redo it, you don’t have to fool with a clear coat. You just scuff it up and paint again. That’s my understanding, anyway.

Remember how long the paint lasted on your 1970 Buick? Remember how it didn’t peel after twenty-five years? Remember how it came back to life when you buffed it? Modern paint doesn’t work like that. It is 100% doomed to failure unless you park indoors. When it fails, you have to replace two finishes, not one, and you have to do entire panels, which generally means the whole car.

Many people think wax prevents clear coat peeling. That appears to be incorrect. People think clear coat peels because chemicals get to the clear coat. In reality, clear coat peels because it expands and contracts at a different rate from paint. Every time your car heats up, the clear coat and paint expand to different degrees. That puts tension between them; they pull sideways on each other. That loosens the clear coat. Then it comes off.

Wax won’t prevent that. Maybe it will block UV radiation, but it won’t turn clear coat into a material that expands and contracts with paint. Clear coat is plastic, like a billiard ball. Nothing dissolves in it. You can’t add a conditioner that makes it more elastic. It is what it is what it is, forever.

You can go to a junkyard in South Florida or Arizona right now and find a 1960 car with the paint intact, and you can wash, buff, and wax it back to a nice appearance. Try that with a 1990 car. I don’t think you will have much luck.

The two areas where two-stage paint seems to excel are shine and ease of repairing shallow scratches.

I may be totally wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. It’s very hard to get information. Car painters love 2-stage paint, because it’s easy to apply, and probably because they know it will fail and bring them more business. Manufacturers praise it because they sell it. Detailers and wax manufacturers love it because it gives them something fragile for their products to protect. On top of that, most people who talk about the subject are ignorant blowhards who repeat everything they hear without checking. If some uneducated doofus on a car website says wax protects clear coat, 95% of ignorant blowhards will repeat it and get angry if you disagree.

By the way, care to guess one of the big hidden reasons we use 2-stage paint now? If you guessed “EPA,” get yourself a cigar. Somehow or other, 2-stage paint is greener. It’s no surprise if it’s also inferior. How often do green alternatives work as well as the technology they replace? About as often as Mexicans buy Trump shirts.

Tonight I mixed a tiny amount of primer and touched up the bare areas on the side cover with a Q-Tip. That will make a lot of car nuts groan, because they think you can only apply car paint with a sprayer. That’s not true. It’s fast with a sprayer, but you can brush it if it makes you happy. I’ve already used a brush on the covers, and it worked perfectly. It sure beat mixing up a wasteful, expensive amount of primer to spray and then starting the compressor and air dryer and rigging up the spray gun. Ten minutes of effort as contrasted with two hours.

I’ll sand the cover down, and then maybe tomorrow (or not) I’ll hit it with the base coat and clear coat. I may wait until I come up with graphics; I’m not sure. I have to be ready with graphics when I spray the base coat, because you have to apply the clear coat within 24 hours of spraying the base. I want to have a plan before I go to work.

I look forward to getting these side covers off of my end table. They have been in my way long enough.

If what I’ve written is wrong, let me know, but please don’t be an ignorant blowhard. Don’t say, “Everybody knows…”, or, “I only use 2-stage paint, and here is what I think based on my limited experience.” Let’s have some science and engineering instead of mindless regurgitation.

Q: Who Owns the Night?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

A: Who Created it?

Last night I realized there had been a change in my life. I’m pretty happy about it. I am no longer having bad dreams.

For a long time, I had bad dreams most nights. To make things worse, I had the same dreams over and over.

Often I dreamed I was back in Austin, Texas, where I lived when I was in graduate school studying physics. I got burned out and quit, and apart from my childhood, it was the most miserable time of my life. I was separated from God. My prayers didn’t go anywhere.

In the dreams, I went back to my old apartment, which was, mysteriously, still mine. I would find huge rooms hidden in it. It was full of great tools. The space and the tools sound nice, but the apartment was a depressing mess. Things were piled up on the furniture; it was as if I had left in a hurry, after living like a slob.

In the dream, I had no friends in Austin. That’s what it was like in real life, unfortunately. The physics guys were very socially inept, and a lot of them were downright creepy. Some were full of anger, possibly because of all the wedgies and red bellies they received while they were growing up. In the dreams, I felt the isolation of Austin again.

When I went to law school, I had lots of friends. I still don’t understand the physics personality.

Sometimes I dreamed I was in a big airport, which I took to be DFW. I never actually got anywhere. I was just moving around in the terminal, as though changing planes. When you’re on a journey, you don’t want to spend an entire day in an airport. You want to board a plane, fly, get off, and do whatever you wanted to do at your destination. I never flew or arrived. I just walked, past endless book kiosks, smelly bars, and Cinnabon stands.

I also dreamed I was back in college. I would find myself walking around on campus, or going to and from campus. The disturbing thing was that it was late in the semester, and I had forgotten about one or two courses. I had dropped them, but I hadn’t filed the paperwork, so as far as the school knew, I was just failing. I kept wondering what I was going to do. I wondered if they would give me a break.

I hated these annoying, persistent dreams. Life was getting better and better, but my nights were unpleasant.

It wasn’t the first time I had been plagued by bad dreams. When I was young–say before the age of eight–I had nightmares every night. I would find myself at parties, surrounded by relatives I loved. When they came close to me to greet me, their bodies would twist apart so they were unrecognizable. They were impostors, sent to scare me. I also dreamed a pure white devil would come up through a manhole under my bed and torment me; sometimes he chased me in a van. He always had a big smile. Making a defenseless child suffer brought him glee.

My worst dreams took place while I was awake. I would wake up and see enormous bugs, snakes, and lizards climbing all over the bedroom. They were on the walls, ceiling, floor, and furniture. They crawled over me on the bed.

One night I woke from a nightmare and yelled for my mother. When she got to the bedroom door, she suddenly shrank in size, down to a height of two or three feet. It showed me she was powerless to help me. That was the point.

It’s wonderful to have peaceful dreams again. I’m not sure what the significance is. I believe spirits that have access to us give us bad dreams. I’ve been attacked by spirits during dreams.

Sometimes I wish my dreams were less vivid. When I’m awake, I remember visiting places that don’t exist. Sometimes I have to ask myself whether I went to a certain place or just dreamed it. It can be very hard to tell.

It seems like I’m going over a hump. Behind me, there were a lot of bad experiences I had to go through in order to be corrected and made strong. Ahead of me, there is more peace and help. I feel that way during the day, not just at night. I expect things to continue to improve.

If you lack peace, there are spirits behind it. You can count on that. If you ever get into the presence of God, you will feel overwhelming peace. That proves that anxiety and agitation come from the other spirits. They are not like him. Other spirits nag, threaten, and manipulate you. They try to make you afraid not to obey. God offers you peace and rest in exchange for preferring him.

You should always be aware that anyone who torments you in order to make you comply is doing evil. God doesn’t work that way. It’s beneath him. God wants free consent. He does not like coercion. Something to think about when other people try to get you to do things.

I would go further than that. If anyone has the power to coerce you, and they use it, there is a kink in your relationship with God. He is jealous; he doesn’t want anyone else to be your master or your father.

I don’t have complete peace, but things get better all the time. I have plenty of incentive to continue, and I have overwhelming incentive not to go back. Some ex-cons are willing to die before being sent back to prison; I feel that way about the powerless life I led before I started doing things God’s way. You can have this planet. You can have the prestige and riches. You can have the fame. Just give me my peace and power.

My Latest Attack of Stupid

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

I Should Probably Quit Cussing the Innocent Now

Man, this is embarrassing.

For days, I have been trying to get my 3HP 3-phase motor to work with a 3HP TECO variable frequency drive (VFD). I have had no end of problems.

The drive kept pooping out at high RPM’s. I could not figure it out. I disabled DC braking and did all sorts of other things. I got really intimate with the Chinglish owner’s manual. I changed this setting. I changed that setting. I even made a new drive pulley for my 2HP motor, in case I had to go back to it.

Tonight someone suggested there might be a “wiring fault.” I could not figure out what he meant, but I went back to the motor itself, to check what I could.

It was wired for the wrong voltage.

Many 3-phase motors come ready to accept either 230V or 460V. Or 220V or 440V. For some reason, we can’t seem to settle on a number for voltage which is double the usual American household voltage. Sometimes we call it 220; sometimes we call it 250. Whatever. A lot of motors come ready to handle twice OR four times the standard wall socket voltage.

When you use a motor, you have to fiddle with the wires coming out of it in order to make sure it knows which voltage is coming. I didn’t do that this time. I’ve dealt with a number of 3-phase motors, and none showed up wired for 440. Or 460. Whatever. It was always 240.

The one I just bought was wired for 460.

The motor wanted twice the voltage I was giving it, so naturally, it kept running out of joie de vivre.

I feel so stupid. I should have checked this carefully.

Now I have to add to my Google legacy, for other belt grinder owners. Yes, you CAN run a 4-pole 3-phase 3HP motor at 120 Hz on a VFD. You can probably go somewhat higher.

I rewired it. It runs great. It has a ton of power. I’m happy.

With that behind me, here is an obvious question: do you really need a 3HP motor on a 2×72 grinder? My feeling is that you don’t. I fired up a 2HP motor tonight, and I had a hard time bogging it down. The 3HP motor is significantly stronger, but I can’t say I felt like I needed the added grunt.

I think you want 3HP if you plan to go above 5000 FPM, for sure. To do that, I would want a pulley over five inches in diameter, in order to avoid revving the life out of the motor. The added torque of a 3HP motor would allow you to work very aggressively at high belt speed, in spite of the tension you would lose to the big pulley.

The thing is, if you shop for motors on Ebay, you’re likely to find a 3HP motor for the same money you’d pay for 2HP, so why not go for it? The only real down side is the weight. Moving a motor that weighs over eighty pounds gets old.

This grinder is unstoppable now. It is a seriously impressive machine, by garage-doofus standards.

Guess I should make something with it.

My Crowning Achievement

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Pulley Nearly Finished

I guess everyone is wondering how to make a crowned pulley for a belt grinder.

I am still mired in the belt grinder project. I’m sort of thinking my best bet is a 3HP 2-pole motor, but I have a 2HP 4-pole motor sitting around, and I want to test it to see how well it works. Maybe it’s the answer.

I tried the 3HP motor at 167 Hz (5000 feet per minute on the belt), and the VFD couldn’t deal with it. I know for a fact it can run the 2HP motor that fast.

It’s too bad I don’t know much about electrical motors. I sort of suspect that the people who have been giving me advice don’t know much either. Some have told me that when you double the speed of a motor, you halve the torque. I have no idea whether that’s true or not. It’s not that easy to find information on 3-phase motors online. I am planning to try to educate myself, but I haven’t succeeded yet.

I had a drive pulley which fit the 2HP motor, but I bored it out to fit the 3HP motor, so I can’t use it on the small motor. That meant I had to make a new drive wheel. Simple, right? Turn a 4″-thick pulley on the lathe, bore a hole, add a set screw…done. Actually, that would probably work, but I wanted to be totally certain the belt would track correctly, so I made a crowned wheel. I finished it a few minutes ago. But for the set screw hole, it’s done.

I have read that you only need one crowned wheel on a machine to make the belt track, but everyone seems to use crowned drive pulleys as well as crowned tracking pulleys, so I don’t want to rock the boat just yet.

Making the pulley was a bit of a pain. In case someone Googles the process in the future, I will leave some information.

First of all, as I said above, you may be wasting your time. You may be able to use a cylindrical pulley. Check it out, if you can.

Once you decide to make a crowned pulley, you need to know a couple of things. The crown doesn’t need to go all the way to the center of the wheel. You can just crown it toward the outside. How far toward the outside? I don’t know.

Also, for a 2″-wide belt, you want about 0.030″ of crowning. That’s radius, not diameter. Sadly, I didn’t pay attention, and I took 0.030″ off the diameter. I forgot that my lathe reads diameter measurements, not radial ones. I’m sure it will still work, though, since there is a ton of slack in the suggested measurements.

I did not have 4″ round aluminum stock lying around, so I used 4″ square stock. That was fun. I had to cut 3.5″ off on the band saw, and then I had to put it in the 4-jaw chuck. I turned part of it down to a 4″ cylinder (slightly smaller due to inevitable chucking error). Then I drilled a hole deep enough for the motor shaft. After that, I crowned one end.

The crowning job was simple. I set the compound slide to around 1/2 a degree, so it would come toward me very slowly as I moved the tool toward the headstock. With this setup, I could start the crowning cut 0.030″ into the work, and it would back out completely as I cut about an inch toward the headstock. This worked perfectly; I had a cylinder with one end that was very slightly tapered.

Then I made my mistake. I parted the cylinder off of the square bit.

I should have crowned the other end at that point, because it was firmly chucked, and everything was completely concentric with the lathe’s axis. Oh, well.

Because I now had a cylinder with one cruddy-looking, parted-off end, and it wasn’t chucked, I had some extra work to do.

First, I chucked it, used a dial indicator to get it concentric, and faced the rough end. I knew this was the best grip I would ever have on the part, so I took this opportunity to bore the hole to size. I opened it to 5/8″ with an S&D bit, and then I finished it up with a boring bar.

It’s frustrating, boring things to size when you can’t test fit them. The motor could not be lifted onto the lathe, and I could not take the part out of the chuck without messing things up. I had to run between the lathe and motor with dial calipers, which are not all that accurate. When it was all said and done, I was still a thousandth or two over the size of the shaft. A totally snug fit would have been nicer, but what I got was perfectly acceptable.

When that was done, I had to shove the part way out in the chuck’s jaws, with the tapered side toward the headstock. That means the chuck was gripping a tapered part. Usually, this is a really bad idea, because chuck jaws are very straight. If a part is smaller toward the headstock end, the jaws will only grip farther toward the tailstock, and if you don’t get a good grip, the part can move or even fall out. But the taper on my part was very small, I am brave, and I am too lazy to make an arbor or take other extraordinary measures to get it perfect.

I managed to put a taper on the exposed end, and then I rested a straightedge on the wheel and rocked it to see where the crown’s apex was. It was a bit off center, so I used emery cloth to sand the wheel until there was no pointy apex and the crowning appeared symmetrical.


With all that done, I had to put a 3/16″ keyway in the wheel.

Keyways are tight slots made with broaches. A broach is sort of like a really thick saw blade that only cuts in one direction. You use a special bushing to hold it in the wheel, and you push it with a press.

In Youtube videos, this is really easy. People use crummy, small Chinese arbor presses and broach things in no time. That didn’t work for me. It will work with a thin wheel, but the thicker a wheel is, the more pressure you need. Earlier this week, I broached a 1/4″ keyway, and I had to use a 20-ton press. Today I broached a 3/16″ keyway, which should be easier, and my 3-ton arbor press was just barely enough.

I learned something disturbing: broaches aren’t made for fat wheels. If a wheel is too thick, a broach will not be finished cutting when you push it until the end is flush with the top of the wheel. I had to put a punch on top of the broach and push it the rest of the way through. On top of that, I had to broach it from both sides. Very aggravating. A 1/4″ broach is maybe 1.5 times as long as a 3/16″ broach, so the smaller your keyway is, the more likely you are to get stuck.

I finally got it done, and now I have a beautiful wheel that needs a set screw hole. Once that’s done, I’ll throw it on the little motor and fire it up.

I suspect this wheel is actually better than the one I bought, and having made it myself, I can see how hard it is to make one with accurate dimensions.

I still have the little motor the Post Office broke. The seller filed a claim, and they paid it. He didn’t want the motor back. The Post Office didn’t ask for it. Now it’s here, with one broken bolt hole. I managed to get the fan working, so the motor can be used. I’m almost afraid that if I turn it on, the Post Office Fraud Squad will swoop in and arrest me.

I don’t know what to say about that. They did screw up the motor, and it was non-functional. It’s still seriously damaged, so I didn’t get what I paid for. But I feel weird, sitting here with a working motor I didn’t pay for.

I guess all parties are happy, so let the good times roll. And even if it works, I plan to replace it, because the broken base is depressing to look it.

The information I have received about motors and speeds and VFD’s has been inconsistent and tinged with ignorance, so I’m still going by trial and error. Anyway, I should be up and grinding tonight, and then I’ll have more data.

I’m excited that I can make crowned pulleys. I’m even more excited to know that I probably don’t have to.

Some day, possibly years from now, I will post a photo of a finished knife I made.

That’s all I have. You can stop pretending to be interested now.

Sparks Finally Flying

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Your Tentative Guide to not Making Stupid Mistakes About Belt Grinders

I continue learning things about belt grinders, sometimes too late to capitalize. I might as well keep documenting my discoveries so other people will benefit.

To get everyone back up to speed:

I bought an Oregon Blade Maker 2″ x 72″ grinder. I set it up with a VFD and an 1800-RPM motor. I found out that you need an enclosed motor (TEFC or TENV) to do it right, because the crud the grinder throws will get into open motors and kill them. I bought a new TEFC motor, and the Post Office broke it. I bought a second motor, and this time I went to 3HP. The other motors were 2HP.

I might as well point out that I use “1800-RPM” to describe any motor that has a speed anywhere near 1800. The actual speed of a 3-phase 4-pole motor running at 60 Hz will be somewhere below 1800, but the difference isn’t worth getting worked up about.


I did a lot of research, trying to choose the right motor. Some guy who is a big banana on a knife-making forum claimed 1800-RPM was the way to go. Something about 1800-RPM motors being built better with regard to the stress of high speeds.

Right away, I should have realized that didn’t make sense. But I trusted him.

I don’t know a whole lot about electric motors. When I was getting my degree, we went through the principles of electric motors, but the things they teach you in physics are generally a long way from practical. That’s why we also have engineering classes. Not the same thing.

I was too lazy to sit around studying the 3-phase motor; I figured any guy who has the awe and admiration of a whole bunch of people on a knife forum ought to know which motor to use.

A person with common sense would have looked at the motors that come with turnkey grinders; they’re 3600-RPM motors. Dohhh!

Arbitrarily, I had decided I wanted the belt to move at 5000 feet per minute (FPM). With a 4″ drive pulley, that required 4775 RPM. With slippage, that’s probably not quite accurate, but that was the figure I chose. To get 4775 RPM, I would have to run the motor at 167 Hz, or almost 3 times the motor’s rated speed.

I didn’t think this was a problem. I knew the bearings were probably good for over 14,000 RPM. The armature–the thing that turns inside the motor–was probably made to the same specs as a 3600-RPM armature, and at 4775 RPM, it would only experience something like 1.7 times the centripetal force. I didn’t think it would fly apart.

The 2HP motors I had ran around 40 pounds. I found a wonderful deal on a 3HP model with nearly the same NEMA frame as one of the 2HP jobs. “Hey,” I figured, “same frame…can’t weigh much more.” WRONG. It’s 84 pounds. Also, NEMA frame specs don’t tell you the overall length of a motor casing. This motor is maybe four inches longer than the others.

The new motor was a real joy to carry to the garage and hoist onto the grinder cart.

I got the motor going, with a lovely jury-rig wiring job, just to make sure it was okay so I could kiss the Ebay seller goodbye. It ran fine up to 150 Hz, but after that, it decided to slow back down on its own. The 2HP motors hadn’t done that.

I went to Practical Machinist, a forum I dread. These guys can be ruthless to hobbyists. But they know a lot. They told me I was lucky the motor hadn’t blown up. I think they were wrong about that, but they also said the motor would probably act as a frequency filter at high speeds, killing the speed. They said the torque would also drop off pretty badly.

I can’t have that. Daddy needs his torque.

No word on why the 2HP motors didn’t act crazy.

What do I do now? I can get over 3500 FPM as it is, no problem. I can also make a new 6″ wheel, which will get me to whatever 3/2 of 3500 FPM is. Okay, I’ll work it out, since it’s a two-second math problem: 5250 FPM.

If I go to a 6″ wheel, surely the force applied to the belt will be 2/3 of what it was (at a given RPM figure) at 4″. That’s just basic physics. On the other hand, it will be going 2/3 as fast at a give FPM figure, and if torque drops with speed, then there ought to be some compensation.

You can see why I need an engineer. They have little books with tables that answer questions like this. Physicists have to derive the answers using calculus and tensor analysis and God knows what else.

One reason I went to 3HP is that I wanted to start with something strong, so it would make up for any losses I had due to the VFD or overclocking or…whatever. I believe 2HP is the most common size motor for a 2×72, but people who use belt grinders seem unanimous: get 3HP if you can.

Now I have to make a decision: leave it alone, make a 6″ wheel (cost of metal: $33), or get a 3600-RPM motor.

I think I’ll just use what I have and see what happens.

The weird thing is, my second motor helped pay for my third one. The seller refunded my money, included shipping, and the Post Office paid his claim. Now I have a free 2HP motor. The Post Office isn’t coming to take it away. That means I can put it on Craigslist, where I can surely get $50 for it.

The big motor only cost about $130, including shipping. It’s a magnificent motor; the unit itself was only $65, which is ridiculous. If I choose to sell it, I can fully expect to recover almost all of what I paid.

Summing up, it doesn’t really matter what I do. In the end, changing motors might run me $100, net. By that I mean the most I can expect to put into a motor, after all the deductions and whatever are included, is about $100. I would probably make money by selling the motor I have and buying a new one.

If you want a 2×72 grinder, here is my advice:

1. Don’t build one unless you’re incredibly handy and have free metal. A nice grinder costs only slightly more than the parts required to make it.

2. Get a 3-HP TEFC or TENV motor.

3. Use a VFD.

4. Make sure the motor’s rated speed is 3600 RPM.

5. Don’t worry about getting an inverter-rated motor, because nobody else does. If the added cost is not much, sure, go ahead and get one, but in practice, you will probably never have a problem with a random 3-phase motor of good quality.

If you have an OSHA shop, I’m sure they don’t do what I did. I mounted the grinder on a board and put the board on a foam shop cart which has a 250-pound shelf capacity. I don’t plan to fasten it down. It’s heavy, and it’s not going anywhere. I could push it over if I really wanted to or I was just stupid, but those things don’t apply, so I don’t intend to worry about having a top-notch professional imbecile-proof installation.


Sadly, I have even more advice.

I looked into crowning, which is what they do to at least some of the pulleys on a typical belt grinder. This will sound crazy, but if you make a pulley bigger in the middle (with a “crown” like a crowned road), belts will try to move toward the crown, not off to the side. This helps them track well. If you have a belt grinder, and it’s not made with tremendous precision, you will want to have at least one crowned wheel.

There are people out there who do great business selling crowned aluminum wheels to knife makers. A lot of folks can make a non-crowned wheel, but making a crowned wheel is intimidating, so the appeal of having it done for you is obvious. I fell for it myself.

If you have a lathe, you can make a crowned wheel, fast. The guys who sell crowned wheels tend to use CNC to make wheels with a rounded profile (radiused from one end to the other). That’s not easy to do on a manual lathe. But you don’t have to do it. In fact, you can make two very shallow straight cuts on a wheel and take it straight to your grinder.

For a 2″ wide wheel, you want the radius (or maybe it’s the diameter; look it up) to be about 0.030″ less on the sides than it is in the middle. I haven’t checked, but I have read that you need about a 0.5-degree angle to do this. That’s simple; just use your compound slide.

If you want, you can pretty it up with a file so it looks round.

You do not want to cut all the way to the middle so the pulley has a pointy ridge in the center. It’s unnecessary, and it doesn’t work as well.

Here’s a jim-dandy link that will tell you what you need to know, while correcting whatever errors I made while trying to paraphrase it above: CLICK.

If you have a VFD, you will want to make sure flying crud can’t get in. You may want to build a box for it, or just move it away from the grinder.

I think that covers it.

Oh…also, don’t buy a grinder with a platen as your first tool. Get a contact wheel 8″ or 10″ in diameter. That’s what most people use most of the time when making knives.

I may be mistaken about some of this stuff, but it’s a lot better than what I thought I knew a week ago. You can’t trust knife makers when it comes to tools, because they don’t know much about them. They make wonderful knives, but that doesn’t make them tool experts.

‘Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Or Another Box of Parts?

I am still working on the belt grinder.

As I lamented a day or two back, I found a really nice Mitsubishi TEFC motor for peanuts, and the Post Office broke it. It’s a mystery to me why people who transport other people’s things are so careless; it seems like those jobs bring out the ape and vandal in about half of the folks who take them. Look out an airplane window, and you can pretty much count on seeing a sullen twenty-something throwing suitcases just for fun. That’s a fact of life. The only solutions are heavy-duty packaging and damage claims.

The Mitsubishi was a 2-horse motor, intended to replace the open 2-HP motor I already had. I did not want metal filings and bits of abrasive going into the motor and killing it, so I had to get something that was enclosed. The Mitsubishi looked like a good deal. It was very cheap, and it was Japanese. Americans make better stuff than most people in the world, and the Japanese make stuff better than we do.

Once it was busted I had to go back to Ebay and search. The 2-HP offerings were not too bad, but they were limited. I had a thought: why not try 3-HP? That would expand the possibilities.

I was afraid it was too much motor for a belt grinder, but I Googled around and asked questions, and it turns out 3 is just about optimal. My VFD’s are rated for 3 HP, so there is no reason why I can’t move up. With effort, it is possible for a human being to bog a 2-HP grinder down somewhat. This doesn’t happen as easily with more power. Also, and I don’t know why this would be true, you can get more life out of belts with a bigger motor.

I can’t guarantee that last part, but it’s what I read. Something about bearing down on belts being better for them than light pressure. Maybe they load up less?

It sounds crazy.

I looked for brands that were well-made yet which didn’t receive the attention they deserved. You can find bargains that way. In the end, though, I went with an American-made Dayton motor. The price was great, and it looked nearly new. Now I’m hoping American Daytons are better than Taiwan and China Daytons. Not that I have had any problems with my late-model Dayton grinder, which is from one of those countries (I forget which).

The Dayton has a 182T frame, which has a different bolt pattern than the 184-frame Doerr I’ve been using. I’ll have to make a new platform. Also, a 182T frame has a bigger shaft, so I’ll have to bore out the drive wheel I bought, and then I’ll have to broach a keyway into it.

I found out what the “T” in motor frame names means. It means “thick.” It probably doesn’t really mean that, but if you see a “T” in a frame designation, it means the shaft is thicker than it would be without the “T.” A 182 frame has a 7/8″ shaft, like my drive wheel. A 182T has a 1 1/8″ shaft.

I deeply, deeply regret using Dupli-Color water-based Bed Armor truck bed paint on the first platform. It looks bad, it grabs dirt and grease, it peels, and I just found out it has another problem. It’s glue.

If you paint something with Bed Armor, and then a few days later you bolt a motor to it, the motor becomes attached to it permanently. It’s ridiculous. I had to remove the old motor from my grinder platform, and I found I couldn’t pull it off. I had to lift the motor, platform, and grinder together and put them on the floor. Then I was able to get the motor and grinder loose by pulling while standing on the platform. The paint where they had been sitting looked awful when I tore them off.

I have been wondering whether I could get away with cutting out a circle of air conditioner filter material and taping it over the air intake on the old motor, to stop crud from going in. I’ve learned that some people use pantyhose for this. But it would look stupid, and it might cut down the air flow too much, so why not get a motor that works without filtration?

I’m selling the Mitsubishi. The seller didn’t ask for it back, so I’m Craigslisting it. I figure I can get $50 for it. That will bring the effective price of the Dayton down pretty low.

As long as I’m talking about things no one cares about, let me walk back my rave review of Rust-Oleum Forged hammer finish paint. I still like it, but I learned something about it: you can’t put pressure on it for quite some time after it dries. Days after my motor’s paint job dried, I left the power cord looped over the top of the motor for a day or two, and the paint sort of tore. I don’t know how long it has to cure, but I would give it at least two weeks before putting pressure on it again. I sanded out the messed-up bit and sprayed over it with no problems, so the paint is very forgiving.

I intend to use the grinder the way it is until the new motor gets here. Then I’ll make a new platform and paint it, and I’ll bore out the drive wheel. Sounds like a day’s work.

It’s going to be cool, having a 2×72 grinder handy. It will change my life. There is no end of the problems you can solve by ripping material off of things with abrasive belts.

I’m hoping to finish off the knives I’m making. Shouldn’t take long at all. Then off they go to be hardened. I will post photos.

That’s it for this Wednesday. Pray my new motor arrives in one box.

Welcome to the Popular Mechanics Swimsuit Issue

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Introducing Our First Model

A few people actually commented on my last blog post, which involved a motor I cleaned up for use with a grinder. Now that I realize what a giant hit my motor essays are, I have decided to post another photo.

Here is the motor, sitting on the platform I have to re-drill and repaint, with the variable frequency drive I have to put in an enclosure.


You have to admit, it looks nice considering what it used to be. The new used wave spring I ordered arrived yesterday, so I’ll be installing that later.

I finally realized that you restore a lumpy shaft by filing in the axial direction, not across the shaft, so I may try to polish this motor’s shaft a little more. It’s not perfect. A real man would put it on the lathe, but that involves pressing the bearings off, so I would have to get new bearings.

The new used motor I ordered is supposed to arrive today, so I’m not sure why I did all that work, but if I ever need a 2-HP Totally Open to Crap motor, I’ll have one on deck.

Out of curiosity, I looked into motor longevity. Apparently, no one actually knows how long a motor should last. For one thing, no one has defined “motor death.” Is it when the bearings go bad? Is it when the wiring burns up? There is no consensus.

Leeson (DISCLAIMER: a company that really wants you to trash your old motors and buy the new ones it makes) says you can hope for something like 15 years of operation, and I assume that’s in industrial applications. If not, a lot of people who buy Leeson motors will be hopping mad, because a motor that lasts 15 years in a factory will last three months in your house.

When bearings go bad, you can replace them for a few dollars. Bearing death is not motor death. If I understand things correctly, the real problem comes when the insulation on the stator breaks down, and this can be accelerated by heat or current spikes (which, actually, equal heat).

I wondered about this, because there are always tons of used motors available on Ebay. How do you know what condition the stator is in? You don’t. A motor can look really nice on the outside without telling you much abot the inside. Maybe some of those 75%-discounted Ebay motors aren’t great deals. Or maybe they are, if insulation breakdown takes several decades. Some motors appear to be immortal, continuing to run after nearly a century, so it may be that there are motors out there with insulation so wonderful they are very hard to ruin.

I do not know.

In my garage, even a Chinese motor made the day after a major drunken holiday will probably outlive me, because I don’t use them much.

You shouldn’t use a belt grinder which isn’t anchored correctly, or which doesn’t have proper protection for the motor or VFD, so of course, I am already using this grinder. I’m not using it much, though. I used it at about 600 RPM to clean the remaining milling marks off a knife I’m making. It worked great. It was slow, because I refused to turn the speed up, but it beat the daylights out of using sandpaper or a whetstone.

A surface grinder would have knocked it out in 10 minutes, and it would have left the knife with a very precise thickness, but I don’t have a surface grinder.

This project is going really well. Even when I do the wrong things, I am succeeding at them.

Some day you’ll see a finished knife here. And won’t that be special?


The new motor arrived. Check it out.



Can you believe that? The seller jammed it into a flat rate box. Naturally, the Post Office destroyed it. I wonder if they do that deliberately, just to punish people for mailing things they don’t want to carry.

The base is broken, and the fan shroud is crushed. The shaft will not turn.

To his credit, the seller refunded the cost of the motor plus shipping.

Back to Ebay, I guess.

Five-Day Job Enters Week Three

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Gross Motor Skills

I’m still not able to use my new belt grinder. Not really.

For a long time, I wanted a 2″x72″ belt grinder, because it’s a powerful tool for removing metal and other materials from stuff. If you want to change the shape of something fast, a 2×72 grinder (I am reverting to the typical lazy expression without quotation/inch marks) is your best friend.

As people who actually read this blog know, I bought a pretty yellow grinder, and I rigged it up with an old motor and VFD I had lying around. So far, so good. But there are some issues.

First of all, do not ever buy Dupli-color water-based pickup bed paint (“Bed Armor”). It’s horrible. They make a poisonous (probably) solvent-based bed paint which is magnificent, but I bought the water-based type because my local Advance Auto Parts didn’t have the version that works. The results were not good.

I intended to use it on the wooden platform I made for the grinder. I guess I should point that out. The solventy stuff makes a rock-hard finish you could probably pressure-clean, and it dries fast. It’s useful for lots of projects. I hoped the water-based version would work just as well.

I made the platform and started spraying it. The paint came out in globs and big droplets. It didn’t want to adhere to the wood, so I had to use a lot. There were big globby areas when I was done. It self-leveled to some extent, but when it was over, it looked bad. Also, it takes over a day to cure.

When it was cured, the surface was like fresh concrete, only without the durability. It was gritty. It attracted and held onto grease and dirt. Worst part: I could scrape it off with a fingernail.


That being said, I decided to use the platform until I got the grinder set up, with the intention of stripping and fixing it later.

The motor I intended to use had some problems. Mainly, it was caked with black grease which was not far from wax in consistency. The grease was inside the motor as well as outside. How did that happen? Don’t ask me. It appeared as though someone had operated the motor near a mysterious, implausible source of flying grease, and the motor’s fan had sucked it in through one end of the case.

Also, the case was rusty and peeling. It was like that when I got it, but I made it worse by storing capped muriatic acid near it. You can’t have muriatic acid in a room with iron. Even if you cap it, the acid will get out into the air and make things rust.

The motor was free, sort of. I bought my first lathe (used) from an outfit called Plaza Machinery, and in addition to promising me one model of lathe and sending a different one, the owner sent me the wrong motor. He made some truly pathetic, grudging efforts to make up for what he did, and sending me the crusty motor was among those efforts.

I offered to send it back to him at one point, but he had my money, and he was no longer willing to talk to me, so I kept it.

He also sold me micrometers that didn’t work. Then people got mad at me when I criticized him on a machinist forum. Amazing. Obviously, if you’re part of a hobby, your loyalty should be to your fellow hobbyists, not to characters who promise you one thing, insist on cashier’s checks so you can’t fight them through your credit card company, and then send you something else.

Forum people tend to suck up to vendors, and that’s sad. They’re like church people who try to rip out the throats of honest individuals who criticize crooked pastors. It’s a mindset I can’t comprehend.

The lathe guy was obnoxious, and his business methods were suspect, to put it kindly (more like euphemistically). I forgive him and all, but that doesn’t change what he was. I don’t care if every Internet machinist on earth gets mad at me.

I guess they’ll all stop sending me big weekly checks to pay my bills.

I felt bad putting my crusty motor beside my beautiful grinder, so I decided to paint it. I took the end shields off (that’s what the ends of motors are called). I sprayed chemical stripper on the case (outside of the motor) and used a plastic spatula to remove the crud. That stuff is amazing. It takes about ten minutes to work, and if you’re not inept, you can spray it very accurately.

I cleaned the excess stripper off in the kitchen sink. It’s good to be single.

I finished up with an angle grinder and wire knot wheel. I would guess that the whole depainting process took 45 minutes, including wiping it down with DNA (denatured alcohol). I gouged one of the motor’s wires, but I was able to perform microsurgery on it and fix it. About half of the strands were cut. I cut the rubber back on each side of the gouge. I wrapped thin wire around the remaining strands to build them up. Then I buried the joint in solder and covered it with shrink tubing. It’s really nice. I was shocked that I was able to do it at all.

Having panned a brand of paint and a machinery dealer, I will now offer some praise.

Hammer-finish paint is great for tool restorations. It has little dents and dimples in it when it dries, so it masks scratches and dings in a machine’s surface. It looks snazzy. I decided to try it. I got me a couple of cans of Rust-Oleum Forged Hammer Finish paint. This stuff includes primer, and it’s about a dollar more than the regular Rust-Oleum hammer finish paint. It has a neat spray nozzle that works in all positions.

I taped the motor off (the way people who actually care about their work do), and I blasted it with paint. Over the next day, I would say I ended up with three coats. It looked wonderful. It’s hard. It’s shiny. It makes the motor look smooth. Excellent. Buy it. It does take a long time to cure, though.

The end shields on the motor are aluminum, and I was not able to make them look good by buffing and sanding. They were too beaten up. I cleaned them using electrolysis (and by boiling them in cleaning-strength vinegar), and then I hit them with black hammer finish paint. The results are beautiful.

The grease was a real problem. I cleaned the motor on the outside using DNA and turpentine, but I couldn’t do much to the inside. The stator (the wiry bits that don’t move) was bonded to the case, so I couldn’t remove it to clean. I wiped off whatever I could and let it go.

Turpentine takes grease off in a hurry. It dissolves it instantly. Then it evaporates. Highly recommended.

The motor had a broken wave spring (washer that functions as a spring and holds the rotor in place in the shield), so I ordered one from Ebay. I also put a clamp fitting in the hole where the wires come out, to provide strain relief and keep the wires off the sharp threads in the hole.

This motor has no junction box. A junction box is a little sheet metal box the wires go into when they leave the motor. Another nice present from Plaza? I don’t know. I can’t believe the motor was made that way. Because it has no junction box, there is no place to connect a ground screw. I’m thinking I may buy a galvanized box from Home Depot and attach it.

So anyway, now I have a beautiful motor that runs like new. That’s a problem. The motor isn’t really suited to grinder use. It’s not sealed against dust, so abrasive and/or conductive stuff from the grinder will get sucked into it. Initially, I didn’t care about this. Free motor. And it was old and beaten up. If it blew up, so what? But now that the motor looks like a rock star, I don’t want to ruin it.

Now I have some wonderful facts about motors, for your enjoyment.

Far as I know, there are two types of motor that work well in dusty environments. One is TEFC, and the other is TENV. TEFC means “totally enclosed fan-cooled,” or something close to that. TENV means “totally enclosed non-ventilated,” or something similar. Look it up. What am I? Your nanny?

The motor I have is more like TOTC, or “totally open to crap.”

If you decide to put a grinder or sanding machine together, think about grit and try to keep it out of your motor. I already have a little belt grinder with a TOTC motor, but I at least arranged the fan so it sucks air from the clean side.

I couldn’t stand the thought of my painted motor eating grit, so I went on Ebay, and I found a TEFC motor for the low, low price of $65, with an ad that practically said, “We will take almost anything for this.”

The motor is a Mitsubishi. I kept looking at the photos, trying to figure out whether it was bulletproof, better-than-American, Japanese Mitsubishi or crappy, depressing licensed Mitsubishi from China or Nigeria or something. I sent the seller a question, and he said he didn’t know, and he offered to take fifty bucks. SOLD!

So now I have that on the way. I have to wait for it before I can do the final setup on the grinder.

The motor has a 145T frame, and the old motor is a 184-something, so I’ll have to put different holes in the platform.

More motor information: motors can be described by frame designations. These are numbers like 145T, 184, 156, and so on. An organization called NEMA created specifications for various frame numbers. If you know a motor’s frame number, you can look it up, and no matter who made the motor, you will be able to determine the motor’s shaft diameter, feet pattern, and so on. This is very helpful when you’re trying to install a motor in a machine you already have. If NEMA says it fits, it fits.

My new motor and my old motor have the same horsepower rating and speed, but the 145T is smaller (nice), and the base is different, so the 184 holes won’t work. With luck, one of them will be okay, but I’ll have to make three more, which is more aggravation than you would think. When you’re Carlos the carefree Cuban self-taught handyman from Hialeah, you just grab your Harbor Freight drill and one of your three rusty drill bits, and you make crappy holes surrounded by tearout. Then you demand payment in cash and run away before your work explodes. When you’re trying to do a good job, you have to use at least two bits per hole, and you have to clamp stuff under the work to prevent tearout. So I have that to look forward to.

When all this is done, I have to make some kind of housing for the VFD, to keep crud out of it.

In about 8 days, I should have a grinder that works. Exciting.

I realize no one read this, but I write what makes me happy, so I suppose that’s okay. If you made it this far, your prize is the photo I post below. In the photo, the motor is only mocked up, but you get the idea.

Enjoy. You lucky, lucky few.


I’m an Abrasive Guy

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

Grinder Takes Shape

I have my 2×72 belt grinder set up, more or less.

It has been an interesting project. To make it work, I had to choose between getting a new base for the grinder or making it work with my old abrasive cart, which is a Northern Tool cart that held my 1×42 belt grinder and bench grinder. In the end, I decided the smart thing was to try to jam both belt grinders on the cart. It’s easier to put the bench grinder on a new base than to start from scratch on a belt grinder base.

The motor I’m using is gigantic. It’s the old 2-HP Reuland motor I got for nothing (sort of). When I bought my first lathe, the unscrupulous dealer sold me the wrong machine, and he included a 1-phase motor instead of the 3-phase job he had advertised. He made a little effort to make things right, and that included shipping me the ancient Reuland. The shaft was banged up, so I took to Ebay and bought a beautiful new 2-HP Baldor, cheap.

I guess I can’t call it free, since the dealer still cheated me, but I didn’t pay for the motor.

When I first tried to use the Reuland, I had a hard time getting the lathe’s pulley mounted. Then it ran funny. When I took the pulley off and looked at the shaft, it appeared that someone had banged it pretty hard with a giant hammer or something. It had burrs and a big flat spot. I can’t even guess what kind of idiot does a thing like that to a top-of-the-line 3-phase motor, but I can tell you this much: it was an employee, not the owner of a company. People who pay for things don’t beat them with hammers.

When you bang on a piece of metal and make a depression, you also raise metal. The metal you displace from the depression has to go somewhere, so it usually rises up around the depression, forming a rim. I heard a master machinist describe this as “disturbed metal.” My motor’s shaft had disturbed metal around a big ding, so the pulley had a hard time sliding past it.

I got rid of that lathe a long time ago, and of course, the buyer cheated me out of a hundred dollars. I had it rigged up with a VFD, which I kept. The fact that I had a motor and VFD lying idle figured prominently in the rationalizations that enabled me to buy the new belt grinder.

When I tried to put the new drive wheel on the motor (to pull the grinding belts), it didn’t want to go over the damaged shaft, and the keyway in the shaft looked enormous. I assumed it was larger than the usual keyway for a 7/8″ shaft. It looked bigger than the corresponding keyway in the wheel. I figured I would have to broach a bigger keyway into the wheel.

I got the motor running, and I used the spinning motion to help me file the bumps off the shaft. I then sanded it. After that, the wheel went right on, and surprisingly, the key fit. Apparently, the monkey who banged up the shaft also did something or other to cause the keyway to wear, and it made it look like it was a size larger than it is. Whatever; as long as it works.

That’s the exciting story of the motor.

It turned out I actually had two VFD’s to choose from. A long time ago, I bought a VFD for my milling machine, thinking I was buying a pulley machine. A machine with multiple drive pulleys allows you to change speeds by moving a belt from one pulley to another. The seller, who tended to screw up a lot, informed me he was sending a variable speed mill instead. Nice, because that’s a pricier tool, and I wasn’t paying extra. But I had already spent maybe $250 for the VFD.

The purpose of the VFD was twofold: 1) to turn 250V 1-phase power into 3-phase power, and 2) to allow me to vary the frequency (changing the motor’s speed) without handling belts. I no longer needed the frequency feature, but I still needed 3-phase, so I hooked the VFD up.

Later on, I bought a big phase converter (machine which turns 1-phase into 3-phase), so I didn’t really need a VFD for the mill. I left the VFD connected anyway, because I was lazy. Yesterday I removed it, and I’ll be connecting the mill to the phase converter soon.

Now I have two VFD’s ready for use. One is small and easy to mount. The other has a nice detachable control pad, so I can mount it out of the way of dust and run an ethernet cable to the control pad. I can connect a remote speed-control pot to the smaller VFD; it won’t be as elegant, but it will work.

I wired the motor up to the VFD. I cut a piece of thick plywood to use as a platform. I put the motor and grinder on the wood, and I clamped them down. I ran the motor with a belt on the grinder and moved things around until I was happy.

After that, I used a stubby pencil and transfer punches to mark drilling locations on the wood, and I made holes for 3/8″ bolts.

The bolts go through the grinder and motor bases and then through the plywood. I didn’t want anything to protrude under the plywood and scrape up my cart, so I used T-nuts. These are nuts that sink into wood. I used a Forstner bit to cut shallow cavities on the underside of the wood (for the T-nut bases to fit into), and then I installed the T-nuts. Perfect.

Drilling wood is a real pain. It always blows out and tears up on the lower side. I made a lot of effort to avoid this. For one thing, I clamped scrap to the underside of the wood so the scrap would support the fibers where the bits came out. For another, I drilled tiny starter holes all the way through the wood, and I used them to guide a spade bit which I applied from the underside. This created shallow 3/8″ holes on the underside. When I drilled down from above, I met these holes, and there was less wood in the way to blow out.

Here’s a photo of what I have now:

09 03 16 belt grinder bolted to plywood small

Some people insist on metal plates and so on to anchor belt grinders. I guess that’s nice if you work in a factory and you put hundred-pound loads on your grinder rest. The setup I created is as solid as a rock, and it doesn’t have to handle heavy loads. I used 3/4″ plywood, but 1/2″ would have worked fine.

I’m going to sand the rough edges off the platform. Then I think I’ll hit it with truck bed paint. It goes on without primer, it dries fast, it looks good, and it wears like iron. After that, I’ll try to situate rubber feet on the underside of the platform, so they’ll butt up against the inner walls of the cart and hold the platform in place. The platform won’t sit in the cart. It will rest on the outer edges. That lets me use platforms that are larger than the top tray, and it leaves space in the tray for belts and belt grease.

I can retract the tool arm(s) when I’m not using the grinder. That will keep it out of the way, to some extent.

I haven’t figured out what to do about dust. One easy solution is to hang the VFD under the tray, away from dust, and run wires to a pot mounted on the platform. I hate to cut holes in my nice cart, though, and I wonder if it will protect the VFD. Generally, people put them in boxes with air filters. Mine would be exposed, but it would be in an area which sees little dust.

I think that will work. I’ve seen where the dust from grinders falls, and it doesn’t fly around corners or in loops. It falls under the platform and belt. It won’t make it to a VFD under the tray.

I can already tell the grinder is going to be a fantastic tool. While I was setting it up, I used it to remove some of the milling marks from a knife I made. The grinder has a flat platen behind the belt, and you can press flat objects against it, so it creates a flat surface. From the results I got, I believe it will work well enough (accurately enough) to allow me to put flat, scale-free sides on knives.

This will sound crazy, but I held the knife against the platen with my bare fingers, turned the motor on, and let the belt grind it while I held it there. It was no problem at all. In the future, I think I’ll put something between me and the blade, so my fingers won’t hit the belt if I slip, but at low speeds, it’s not likely to hurt me because I can move my hand way in plenty of time.

I’ll need a big contact wheel. That’s is a giant pulley (maybe 10″ in diameter) that replaces the platen. It allows you to grind the sides of knives so they’re slightly hollow. That makes sharpening easier, and it makes for a less clunky knife. Contact wheels cost a lot of money. Not sure why.

I’m going to have two nice grinders, side by side, with speed controls. That will be excellent. If you haven’t used grinders, you don’t understand how useful they are. They sharpen. They deburr. They clean. They shape. They polish. Wonderful machines.

Now I suppose I need to learn about belt grinder safety so I don’t sand myself to death.

Good tools turn frustration into pleasure. I look forward to using this thing.

Lard and Hot Steel

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

Take That However You Want

I finished Ovid yesterday. The last thing I read was the letter from…now I’ve forgotten…Medea to Jason. No, it was Sappho to Phaon, whoever that is. I had to check. You can see how much it impacted me.

It’s essentially a remake of the other letters, which are remakes of each other. Sappho said a couple of things that were relatively clever, but they weren’t clever enough to raise her above the level of the other jilted stalkers.

My main reaction to finishing Ovid: relief. Of course. Now I get to read Augustine. I don’t like calling him “St. Augustine” because he’s not a saint. By that I mean he’s not better than other human beings. He’s not someone people should pray to. Great guy, maybe. Not a saint. The saints were created to replace the Greek pantheon. God had nothing to do with it.

If you had told me a year ago that I was going to have to read Augustine, I would have looked for a way out of it, as I did, successfully, back at Columbia University. After my ordeal with the Greeks and Romans, Augustine sounds like a trip to Disney World. Bring him on. I can’t wait.

The Sappho letter lends credence to the idea that Sappho was a truck-driving, Anne Murray-listening, overall-wearing ladies’ lady. She complains that Mr. Phaon has ruined her for women. After her Phaon fornication binge, women just don’t do it for her. Does this mean she was really a lesbian? I don’t think so. Ovid lived a long time after Sappho, so he probably didn’t know much more about her than we do. Once you get a reputation, justified or not, it tends to stick. Maybe Sappho had already been lumped in with the field hockey players and non-shavers of legs before he was born.

Maybe there is a document out there which proves Sappho liked women. I will never know, because I am done with the classics. I wouldn’t read another classic author even if his book was a collection of winning lottery numbers in Roman numeral form. But the document must not exist, because people who actually like the classics do not agree on her orientation.

I don’t know why I’m discussing this. Maybe it’s because it’s the only thing about Sappho that is even remotely interesting.

It’s hard to think of anything exciting enough to follow up speculation about whether Sappho was a flannel-wearer, but I will try: today my belt grinder is going to arrive. If Fedex gets it right. I ordered it a week ago, and the shipper decided to fix it so it required a signature, so I’m stuck at home.

I think I made a good buy. I’m spending maybe $200 more than the cost of building my own grinder, but I will save a pile of work and time, and it looks like the grinder I chose–the Oregon Blade Maker–is a tremendous deal and a good product.

I say that before trying it.

If Sappho were alive, I bet she’d have a belt grinder.

Is it okay to make jokes like that? I don’t actually care, but I guess these days it’s likely to bring out the pierced and tattooed villagers with thrift store torches and Ikea pitchforks.

The coming increase in the persecution of Christians is a frequent topic here, but there are some aspects I haven’t thought about yet. Here’s one that just occurred to me: we will probably be beaten and imprisoned by hipsters. That’s terrible. It’s embarrassing. I’m not sticking up for the Nazis, of course, but I feel like it’s less of a blow to your self-respect when the man who shoots you in the head is wearing a smart military uniform with shiny death’s head pins. We’re going to be murdered by “men” who look like Snuggles the Fabric Softener Bear with glasses. It will be like getting punched out by Truman Capote.

Suddenly the Romans don’t look too bad. Having your brains clubbed out by a 6’8″ barbarian centurion…that’s a man’s death. Centurions didn’t have to say, “Hold my latte,” before they killed people. We’re going to be slaughtered by the snowflake patrol.

I never thought musing about persecution would look like this. You have to wonder what people will make of it when I’m gone.

I would not be the first Christian to have a sense of humor about it. They say that when Lawrence was roasted on a grill (by the church), he looked up and said, “I’m well done. Turn me over!”

If I have to take sides, I think I’ll side with John, not Lawrence. Lawrence was grilled, and grilling is about health, not flavor. John was deep-fried. It didn’t take, but it was certainly a superior method of preparation. Now that we know KFC’s secret recipe, I can request to be breaded.

I look forward to trying the grinder, but it won’t solve my scale problem. I will still have to find a way to clean mill scale off of steel, without ruining the shape of the metal. A surface grinder would be great to have. Another possibility: buy steel a little oversize and put screw holes at the ends. Screw it to a big piece of metal, put the metal in the mill vise, and mill the scale off. The large piece of metal and the screws would hold it flat, better than a vise could.

While I wait for the grinder, I’m working on my next food project. I keep making large batches of food so I can reheat during the week instead of cooking from scratch over and over. Yesterday I gave up and bought collards, hocks, neck bones, corn meal, tomatoes, and Vidalias. I’m going to make collard greens and hoe cakes. I just hope I don’t overeat. This food will be off-the-charts good.

I look forward to making the hoe cakes, because I have a Griswold griddle I’ve never used. I Ebayed it and used electrolysis to get the crud off. It looked brand new when I was done. Then I seasoned it with bacon fat. It should be wonderful to use. A griddle is great for things like pancakes and crepes, because it provides easy access for a spatula.

I don’t think I’d want to be griddled. I keep hoping I’ll be hit by a meteor. I can’t come up with anything that beats that plan. Makes a mess, but that’s not my problem.

Maybe I’ll post a photo if I get the grinder running. Or maybe I’ll just lie on my back eating hoe cakes.

Sometimes You Need a Good Stiff Belt

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

I Really Needed One More Tool

I did it. I bought a 2×72 belt grinder.

I’ve been wanting one of these things forever, but they’re not cheap, and building one for yourself is a pain and costs nearly as much as buying one. I figured I could live without it. Then I started making knives, and I realized using a small 1×42 grinder was going to make me miserable in the long run.

Actually, it makes me miserable even in the short run.

Truthfully, I am not quite as gung ho about knife-making as I was a week or two ago, but I kept getting the nagging feeling that I needed to do this. I felt like God wanted me to do it for some reason or other, so I gave in. Now that it’s on the way, I hope I use it.

A lot of Christians are involved with knives and guns, not to mention all types of machining and woodworking. Strange. I guess the zombie predictions are coming true; the heathens are busy playing video games, protesting, and fornicating, so they’re not as likely as we are to have shops full of much-needed tools and weapons when everything goes sour. They will probably be visiting us in groups eventually.

A 2×72 grinder is a remarkable thing. If you work metal, there will be many, many times when you’ll need to remove metal from parts in a hurry, and depending on the job, you may need an angle grinder, a mill, a lathe, a band saw, a drill press, a plasma cutter or cutting torch, or a big belt grinder. They’re not interchangeable.

Now that I think about it, I didn’t mention shears. In the metalworking world, “shear” doesn’t just mean scissors. It can mean a heavy machine you operate by jumping on a treadle, to make long cuts in big pieces of sheet metal.

I’ll post a video of someone showing off a belt grinder. If you’re a man, and you have struggled with wimpy tools, you will instantly want one of these things. Spend two days trying to cut a part down with files and a bench grinder, and you may be willing to trade a leg for a belt grinder.

Here’s something really nice about belt grinders: they’re not limited to steel and iron. You’re probably thinking, “Neither is my bench grinder. I grind aluminum on it all the time.” Well, here is bad news: you’re risking a big accident. Non-ferrous metals can accumulate on a bench grinder wheel and melt into it. Then the next time the wheel gets hot, they can expand and make the wheel explode. When that happens, the best possible outcome is that the wheel will be destroyed and you’ll have to take time off to replace it. The worst outcome is that bits of it can penetrate your face. That has actually happened to people.

Another wonderful thing about belt grinders: you can change grits very quickly. It takes about ten seconds. You can go from 24 grit to a cork belt with polishing compound without removing screws or turning nuts. That’s very nice.

There are a lot of grinders available. I decided to try an Oregon Blade Maker. Some guy, presumably in Oregon, started making grinder bodies from heavy steel plate. He welds them together and puts wheels on them. People who use them like them a lot, and the design seems a lot smarter than the stuff the competition puts out. Also, they’re pretty. They come with nice powder-coating.

Best part: not expensive. When you put “well made” and “not expensive” together, you have my attention.

You can drop three grand on a factory grinder. I don’t see where the money goes. It’s not a complicated machine. You make a box with a cavity that holds an arm that holds the contact wheel or platen, and you stick a few wheels on it, plus a tensioned arm that allows you to put slack in the belt in order to remove it. Simple. It’s not a vertical machining center.

People talk about how grinders have to have mass and so forth. I suppose they must know something, but it seems to me they must be exaggerating. You don’t put an engine block on a grinder rest. The grinder doesn’t have to resist tons of force. It’s not like a mill, which has to weigh over a ton in order to get anything done. I started to make a belt grinder from plywood once, and I’m sure it would have worked fine. I am confident that a welded box made from heavy plate will work just fine, and it should be easier to move around than a giant industrial machine.

Let me see if I can find a Youtube of a wooden belt grinder, just to be a troll. I’ll bet I can.

I found one. This guy went a little nuts; he even made wooden wheels. But the grinder works.

He probably died horribly later. Like the old joke about the guy who backed into a sander says, “a horrible end, but a beautiful finish.”

I was all worked up about making a stand for the grinder. Then I realized I already had one. I have a Northern Tool foam cart I use to hold my bench grinder and 1×42 grinder. I am thinking I’ll remove the bench grinder and put it on a Harbor Freight stand. Then I can put both belt grinders on the cart. That will be convenient.

I learned a few things about belts. Most people like 3M and Norton belts. Basic belts come in aluminum oxide and zirconia. Belts made with zirconia cost a little more, but they supposedly last twice as long, so I assume they’re worth it. I rooted around looking for belts I could buy with credit card points, and I found Red Label Abrasives. You can get them at Sears.com. I have never used one, but I saw a lot of glowing reviews, so I took a chance.

Aluminum oxide is harder than zirconium dioxide (zirconia), but zirconia is tougher. Don’t ask me to explain it, but it supposedly makes a better belt.

While we’re on the subject of economics *rationalization cough cough*, big grinding belts are cheaper than little ones. A 2 x 72 belt contains 144 square inches of grit. A 1 x 42 has 42 square inches. That means a 2 x 72 belt gives you 3.43 times as much grit, for a lot less than 3.43 times the money. Big belts and big motors save time and money, apart from the initial expense.

I wish I could use the plasma cutter for knife work, but I’m a little worried about having problems with the steel, as a result of having nearby metal vaporized at 6 million degrees. It might work, though. I suppose what you do before heat-treating steel isn’t that important.

That would be hilarious. Draw a couple of lines on the metal…ZZZZZHHHHTT…ZZZZHHHHTTTT…clang…done.

I will keep the world informed of my progress, if any. I hope this gives you reason to carry on.

Chickens Beware

Friday, August 26th, 2016

I Will Rule You

I’m working on my second knife. I haven’t finished my first knife, but I’m making a second one anyway, because I can save on shipping if I have two knives heat treated at once.

I’ve learned more interesting stuff. Here’s a surprise: Damascus steel is crap.

You may not know what Damascus steel is, so I’ll tell you. It’s a type of folded steel invented in Damascus, Syria. Not. No one is really sure where the name “Damascus” comes from, but it is believed it was invented in India. Probably their last major contribution to technology since perfecting the tech support line.

To make Damascus steel, you take one or more pieces of steel and heat them in a forge. Then you beat on them with a hammer and fold them over. You keep doing this until you have a whole lot of layers. If you do it 20 times, you have 2 to the 20th power layers, which is probably around a million, since it’s 1024 squared.

Damascus steel looks really cool. It looks like damask fabric, as a matter of fact. Don’t know if that’s a coincidence. Oops; I’m wrong. I Googled. The fabric I’m thinking of isn’t damask. Right now it would be helpful to have a gay man I could ask. Anyway, there is a fabric that looks like Damascus steel, and I have no idea what it is.

In any case, Damascus steel is shimmery and weird-looking.

There are lots of mythological claims about Damascus steel. People say it holds an edge like nothing else, and that it’s so flexible you can bend a sword to a ridiculous angle without breaking it. They say it’s the best steel imaginable, and if you stare at it long enough, it cures baldness. In a fight, it’s even better than boots of escaping.

Sadly, none of this is true.

As a famous knife-maker pointed out, if it were true, industry would make heavy use of Damascus instead of the actual amount of use it makes, i.e. none. It would be used for dies and drill bits and cutters. That doesn’t happen. Toolmakers use things like tool steel, which is infinitely better suited to the job.

People have the idea that Japanese swordmakers had all sorts of lost knowledge about steel, and that they used the folding technique to make incredible swords with steel far superior to European steel. In fact, the folding process was needed because Asian steel was crap. Folding distributes or removes the impurities or something.

You have to apply common sense here. We live in the age of men who created the space shuttle. We probably know a few things that were unknown to ancient people who lived on cow manure and their own children.

There are also lots of arguments about what’s “real” Damascus, but it appears pretty certain that we make it as well as the ancients did, and that no important knowledge has been lost.

I’m glad to know this stuff, because now I can write Damascus off my list of things to master. I’ve seen Youtube videos of guys making it in their garages, and I thought, “Well, if I want to make really good knives, some day I’ll have to do that.” I guess I can forget about building a forge. Damascus looks really nice, but it rusts, it’s expensive, and it’s not very good, and I would prefer to make knives that work well. I want the kitchen knives to be dishwasher-safe. I want to be a knife user, not a knife nursemaid.

I found a dude who makes a bustling living charging $1000 or more per knife, and guess what he uses. Good old 440C. He also uses other stuff, but if 440C is good enough for him–ever–then it’s good enough for me. It’s better than Damascus, and it’s certainly better than most of what you will find at Bed Bath & Beyond. And it’s not too expensive.

My second knife is yet another birds beak knife. I didn’t have a lot of steel left to work with, so it had to be something small, and I figured my second design might be better than the first. The outline is mostly done. I still have to sand off the milling marks, make the cutting edge, and drill it for Corby fasteners, which are little metal bolts that go through the scales.

The 1×42 grinder is battling the steel remarkably well, but it probably cuts 10% as fast as a 2×72. The temptation is getting to me. In one week, I could have a 2-HP motor and VFD (already on hand) driving a grinder which would put a contour on a knife in five or ten minutes instead of one to two hours.

I can’t describe the degree to which I envy people who have surface grinders. The milling machine did a great job of removing scale from the second blade, but it left mill marks, so I still have a lot of sanding to do. A surface grinder would have knocked it out in a hurry.

Milling flat, crooked, thin steel is not easy. At least for me. It’s hard to put in a vice or mount in clamps. Properly, I mean. You can mount it in ten seconds, but getting the waves out of it is a problem. When I was done milling, I had a piece of steel that was still wavy, and the mill went to different depths on different passes, so it left me plenty of work to be done by hand.

You can clamp crooked steel down and mill it flat on top, but then when you flip it to mill the other side, it can bounce back into its crooked shape. If you manage to mill both sides flat and parallel, it may still be slightly bent when you take the clamps off. It’s annoying.

A knife doesn’t have to be laser-straight, but it should look and feel straight when you use it.

I haven’t decided whether I want to keep doing this. It’s easy and fun, but simple jobs tend to become boring with time.

In any case, I should have some really excellent kitchen knives pretty soon, and I may get ambitious and make myself a nice folder. I was even thinking I might take my Gerber Gator II apart, throw the soft 420 stainless blade out, and replace it with 440C. I like the handle.

If I feel like it, I can even etch a trademark and other stuff into blades. There’s a little inexpensive machine out there that allows you to print stencils for etching. That sure beats hammering my initials into it with lettering punches.

If this looks interesting to you, consider getting a big belt grinder. Learn from my suffering.

I’ll post a photo of the latest blade so you can say charitable things about it.

08 21 2016 birds beak knife drilled small

The Scale of Injustice

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

I Saved Two Bucks

My sixth sense tells me people are dying to know how my knife-making efforts are going. Fear not. Relief is at hand.

Here’s a photo of the knife I”m making. Again, as if you hadn’t memorized every detail, this is a birds beak paring knife, but it’s actually a poultry-boning knife. I like birds beak knives for boning poultry.

08 21 2016 birds beak knife with edge formed and buffed small

The steel is 440C, which is a very nice grade of stainless. It’s a lot better than the crap many manufacturers are putting in their knives these days.

Let’s see. Where to start.


Scale is oxidized metal. If metal is processed at high temperatures, scale forms on it. If the scale is on the metal when it comes from the steel mill, it’s called “mill scale.” It’s harder than metal, so removing it is a real pain. It can dull cutting bits, and it’s hard on abrasives. You can buy metal with the scale removed, but I saw that this was a silly waste of money, so I saved two dollars and got the scaly stuff, and I’m spending the last two weeks of August removing the crud. I am a smart shopper. Clearly.

I have people trying to tell me stainless steel doesn’t have scale. Yeah, okay. Everyone in the steel business disagrees with you, and I have scaly steel right here in my house, but…okay.

I shaped my knife, and then I used abrasives to get most of the scale off, but the last bits are the hardest to remove. On top of that, the steel bar I bought is wavy, so you have to sand the high spots off before the scale in the low spots starts to move. I would guess that the dips in the metal are only a thousandth or two deep, but that’s a lot when you’re removing metal from relatively hard steel using a sharpening stone and elbow grease.

I can tell the steel is wavy because wherever there is scale on one side of the blade, indicating a low spot, there is bare metal on the other side, indicating a high spot. Think about it, and you will understand.

I figured I was too smart to let this problem slow me down. I Googled for answers. I read that vinegar takes scale off. Maybe that’s true for carbon steel. I don’t know. It did virtually nothing for 440C.

The next step: electrolysis. I put baking soda in a container of water, and I connected a steel anode and the blade to a battery charger. After several hours, I had a layer of green stuff in the water, plus some rust, but I hadn’t made much progress.

It occurred to me that the green stuff might be a chromium compound. Chromium is found in green pigments. I figured that meant something was happening, but it wasn’t getting the job done.

I wondered why other people weren’t using electrolysis, and then it occurred to me that I might be making something poisonous. I looked chromium up and learned that there is a horrible poison called hexavalent chromium. Apparently you can get cancer just from reading about it (sorry). I hope I didn’t make that.

It didn’t taste too bad.

I considered supergluing the steel to something so I could mount it on the lathe chuck. That would allow me to face the crap off. Then I pictured the blade coming loose at 500 RPM’s. I considered trying the same strategy in the mill.

In the end, I went back to the drill press and sanding drum, along with the diamond sharpening stone. Tedious, but guaranteed to work.

You can remove scale with a belt grinder, but a belt grinder will shape the blade as it grinds. At the very least, it will round it at the edges. I plan to glue micarta scales to this thing. If the steel’s edges are rounded, there will be gaps between the micarta and the steel. It looks like you have to descale the knife before establishing the final contour. Then you can shape it to fit the handle scales. I did not do this.

It occurred to me that reducing the area of the steel touching the abrasive would shorten the descaling time, so I fired up the belt grinder–with trepidation–and started shaping the concave edge I foolishly designed into the knife. A concave edge is harder to grind than a convex or straight edge. I realized that after I was committed to the job.

Grinding went really, really badly. At first. I had no idea what I was doing. I hacked and gouged the steel. I started to think I was ruining it. After a while, though, bits of skill began to materialize somewhere inside me. By the time I was done, I had something that looked very good. I moved to a finer belt, and then I buffed parts of the blade with my 25,000-RPM dental lathe.

It’s not done yet, but I have less metal to finish now. Once every last corrosion pit is gone, I’m going to buff everything that will stick out past the handles, drill the knife for rods to hold the bolsters, drill it for fasteners to hold the scales on, and ship it off to be heat-treated. Sweet.

I can do this. If my first knife looks this good, the knives I’ll make two months from now will be nearly perfect.

I keep learning things. Today I learned that polished knives rust less than shiny ones. The scratches provide more surface area and more places where rust can take hold. That’s not an issue with 440C, but it’s good to know for future knives.

I also learned that 154CM is just as good as 440C, so if I can’t find 440C, I can order 154CM. It’s not exactly the same, but the pluses and minuses balance out to where I would be just as happy with it.

Another bonus: you can make knife-making pay for itself. Most hobbies don’t work that way. It’s very hard to make a living selling handmade knives, but it’s not hard at all to pay for your tools and materials, plus, possibly, beer. Nice.

The disappointing thing is that you can’t make real money at this. The well-known makers who attract drooling mobs of toadies at knife shows are generally either retired or dependent on their wives. That sucks some of the macho out of the business.

“This is my 14-inch cryo-treated 1,000,000-layer Damascus ‘Fang o’ Death II.’ I wanted to make it 18 inches, but Martha wouldn’t give me an advance on my allowance.”

Before I got started on this, I felt bad about having a small 1×42 grinder. It’s pretty slow for shaping things. But now I realize it’s a fantastic knife-making tool, because it can get into places better than a 2×72. If you have both sizes, you’re cooking with gas.

I still have enough scaly steel to make a second knife. I guess I’ll come up with something.

News will be posted here as it occurs.


Here’s the latest. The metal is cleaned up about as well as I intend to get it, and I’ve drilled holes for bolster pins and Corby bolts. As you surely know, Corby bolts are fasteners that hold handle scales on.

It’s about time to mail this thing off for hardening.

08 21 2016 birds beak knife drilled small

Blades of Glory

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

No Turkey is Safe

I feel like I may have finally found my niche in the metalworking world. Today I roughed out my first knife, and it was easy.

Here’s a photo.

08 18 16 birds beak knife roughed in 440C

If you’re wondering why anyone would want a knife that looks like that, I can explain. I like to bone turkeys before roasting them. It makes a world of difference. After you’ve eaten boneless turkey, you won’t want a regular turkey. It’s totally inferior. This knife is designed to bone poultry.

I ordinarily use a birds beak paring knife to bone birds. I bought two pricey Japanese jobs, and all they did was contribute to my belief that Japanese knives are not very useful. I bought two $5 Forschners with plastic handles. They worked very well. But they’re flimsy.

I also have a specially designed harumigatodokutaka, or something that sounds like that. It’s a Japanese knife created for boning poultry. It’s worthless. I can’t understand how anyone manages to bone a bird with one without going to the hospital.

This thing is 1/8″ 440C steel, which is, truthfully, a little thicker than I need it to be. I wanted something sturdy, because when you bone a turkey, you need to get between the bones and pry. It will have the short blade and hook shape of a birds beak knife, and it will be strong enough to survive a stubborn turkey.

It looks grey because it has scale on it. When you heat steel, it oxidizes. Black iron oxide forms on the outside. When the metal cools, the oxide sticks, and it’s called scale. It’s harder than steel. You have to get rid of it (at least on the exposed areas of the knife) as part of the knife-making process.

I removed a lot of the scale using a sanding drum on the drill press. I also tried a 12″ diamond stone. I don’t know what the answer is yet. I think most knife makers just scrub the crud off on a 2×72 belt grinder, but I do not have one of those, and I’m worried that if I used one on future knives, I’ll screw up the dimensions of the knives by taking off metal.

Making this knife was very easy. No challenge at all.

I drew a design, and then I photocopied it. I put the copy on the metal bar I was using for stock. I glued it with 3M Super 77. I put the steel in my bench vise and used an angle grinder and cutting disk to start roughing it. The metal got very hot, so I was concerned I might harden it by accident.

Then I fired up my souped-up 1×42 belt grinder with a 60-grit belt (too fine for the job). It worked very well, considering the inadequacy of the grit, but it was pretty slow, and the belt is about 50% dead already.

I put the steel on the mill and tried milling off the waste, but the steel got hot again, and I had visions of myself trying to machine hardened 440C, so I quit.

I decided to put a grinding wheel on the grinder and try that. Everything fell into place. It removed metal much faster than the belt grinder, it didn’t get the metal too hot, and it was easy to control.

After that I kept moving around among the angle grinder, the belt grinder, the drill press and sanding drum, and my 25,000-RPM Themac dental lathe. I guess I put in an hour and a half.

The finished knife is a little different from the drawing. I made changes on the fly. But it’s beautiful. You can’t see the edges in the photo, but they’re finished like a factory knife’s edges. It’s really something.

Tomorrow I have to clean off the scale, hollow the blade out, put the beginnings of an edge on it, drill for screws, put two 416 stainless bolsters on it (which I will have to fabricate) and attach and shape a micarta handle. Then I have to disassemble it and send the steel to a company that will heat treat it for me.

Then it comes back, and I have to clean it up and put it together. After that, I sharpen it. I’ll have a cool poulty knife that ought to kick the crap out of anything you can buy anywhere.

Micarta is plastic with fabric imbedded in it. It makes good handles, and I am hoping it will be dishwasher-safe. If it weren’t for my desire to use the dishwasher, I would have bought a natural handle material that looks better.

Yes, I will be putting a handmade knife in the dishwasher. Deal with it.

If I had known knifemaking was this easy, I would have started 30 years ago. If I had had a big belt grinder, this would have taken half an hour. If I had had a big belt grinder with a few special attachments, it would have taken 15 minutes. You could make three decent knives a day if you had the right tools.

I suppose it’s even faster than that if you’re using steel thinner than the 1/8″ stuff I used. If I made a chef knife, I’d want something like 3/32″.

A 440C cleaver! That’s what I need!

Forget store bought kitchen knives. They’re almost always deficient in some way or other. Well, maybe that’s not true. I like my cheap Forschner and Mundial chef knives. But other than that, it seems like every knife is a compromise. Not any more!

When I get this thing mocked up, I’ll post a photo. When I get it treated, I may actually have to buy a turkey.