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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

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.

File This Under “E” for “Exciting”

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Listen up, Slackjaws

Now that I’m a big expert knife maker, I am–this will be a shock–adding to my tool collection. But it’s not so bad. So far, I’ve only bought files and file handles.

Here’s what I learned while shopping for files: nothing is so simple the Internet can’t make it incomprehensible. Actually, I already knew that.

Guess how many kinds of files there are. I hope you’re not expecting me to tell you, because the answer appears to be either infinity or unknowable. Guess how you can tell different types from each other. You can’t. At least I can’t. Every flat file looks like every other flat file to me.

A Youtube knife dude said I needed a flat double bastard file. That’s really what they call them. I tried to find one. I found double bastard flat mill files, lathe files, hand files, handy files, corrupted files, X files, Windows swap files, and Rockford Files.

I may not have that list exactly right.

There are a whole bunch of files that look exactly alike on a monitor screen. Luckily for me, the Youtube guy filmed the package his file came in, so I zoomed in and got the model number.

The file was a Nicholson, and Nicholson makes good American files that come in red, white, and blue packages. In 2010. In 2016, they make dubious Mexican files that come in green packages. Some people say they’re good. Other people say “no bueno.” I do not know who is right, but I do know that it’s not like there are 50 other American file companies to which I can defect, so I’m buying Nicholson.

I would expect Mexicans to be able to make good files. For one thing, it’s simple. It’s a piece of steel that has been cut and hardened. I could probably make one myself if I absolutely had to. For another thing, files can be useful for cutting padlock shackles so you can cut across other people’s land while entering the United States illegally.

Just saying.

There are quite a few good products made in Mexico. I wouldn’t want to ride their first space shuttle (which would almost certainly land or at least make a brief stop in El Paso), but their Fender guitars are nice.

One of the things you learn if you make a serious effort to get good at using tools is that almost no tool is simple to understand and use. If you think I’m kidding, go to Youtube and look for a video telling people how to use a claw hammer. I guarantee you will find at least three, and you will find out you’ve been doing at least three things wrong. It’s the same way with files. There are different shapes and “grits,” if you can call them that. There are files for hogging metal, and there are files for finishing. You have to be careful you don’t push a file the wrong way, you have to know how to fix it when it gets “pinned,” and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can leave mystery marks on a part while performing an operation you are positive is too simple to be done wrong.

Check this video out. You thought I was kidding. I hope you kept the receipt for that wrong hammer you bought.

I have a ball peen hammer, a claw hammer, a blacksmith’s hammer, a deadblow hammer, a hammer with plastic faces, a 13-pound sledge, a machinist’s hammer, and probably some other hammers, and I still don’t have enough.

A masonry hammer. I have a masonry hammer.

Not including thread-restoring files, I had–I think–a grand total of four files before I got the knife bug. I decided to add three more to my collection. I guess that should be enough to get me through one knife.

Buying files is so complicated, I actually made a computer FILE listing the model numbers of the files I have. It’s my file file. If I decide to replace them, there is no way I’ll be able to figure the model numbers out without a record. I looked at my files (steel, not binary), and they don’t have numbers on them. One says “bastard” on it. Glad I knew that was a technical term, or I would be writing Nicholson a furious email right now.

Now that I’ve actually looked at my files, I’ve discovered that Nicholson also makes files in Brazil. Crazy as Brazil is, that may be good news. They make some good stuff there, like Springfield firearms.

Down in Springfield, Brazil. Yeah.

I’ve also learned that file prices make no sense. Some files that cost $16 on the Internet appear to be almost exactly the same as other files that cost $5. I’m sure there’s a secret explanation, probably in Portuguese. I don’t know what it is.

It looks like Ebay is the place to buy files. A certain file I wanted was over ten bucks on retail sites, but I found them for five dollars and change on Ebay. I also found handles.

One of the annoying things about files is that the handle costs extra. Maybe you thought you were supposed to use them the way they’re packaged, just holding the pointy thing at the end (okay, “tang”). Wrong. You’re supposed to blow another five bucks on a package of rubber handles. You can’t buy one handle; that would make too much sense. They come in packages of two. I ordered four, so I will probably have more file handles than anyone within a ten-block radius.

If you wear out a knife-making file, there is good news: you can make a knife out of it. People do it all the time. I guess the steel must be highly suited to the purpose. It’s already hard. The knives are probably not all that pretty, and the cost is surely increased by the necessity of wearing out sanding belts (because you can’t file a file), but it can be done.

If you absolutely must try it, do not use a new file. A piece of fine 440C steel bigger than a file costs nine bucks. Quite possibly less than the file you’re considering ruining. Think, McFly. Think.

If you want to find out just how stupid you are about files, I have help for you. I’m going to post a video by Lyle Peterson, AKA Tubalcain. He claims he’s a former shop teacher, but from the sound of his voice, I would guess he’s actually the voice guy from the Miller High Life commercials. Whatever. I can totally picture him making fat kids do pushups for deliberately crashing the lathe. Or just for crying because they can’t climb the rope like the other kids.

He sounds like he has one of those bony, scarred index fingers that go right through your ribcage when he jabs you in the chest for talking in class and tells you you’re a slackjaw who will end up working at Sonic. He reminds me of my first-grade gym teacher, Coach Hatch, who had a special giant shoe to support the foot he injured stomping German tank barrels shut at El Alamein.

If you like tools, the video will be interesting. If not, it will be like watching a Republican debate without Donald Trump.

Get yourself some files. They will change your world, one stroke at a time.


Well, I am wrong. I should have realized. When you make a file knife, you anneal the metal before you shape it. So you don’t have to grind the whole thing.

Just picked that up on Youtube. Why do I ever turn it off?

The Gun Game Gets Even Weirder

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Steel Grips; Glass Houses

I was going to write a post and simply say Jesse James had won the 1911 game, but now I’m not so sure.

Jesse James is a famous bike builder and hot rod designer. You probably know that. A few years back, he entered a competition with Paul Teutul (both of them), and I believe he came in second. Paul Jr. built a bizarre chrome bike that looked like the kind of bicycle the Silver Surfer would ride, and Senior built something that may have been a halftrack Roto-tiller. I’m still not sure what it was. Street snowmobile, maybe? Definitely not a motorcycle.

Anyway, James had some amusing things to say at the time. He claimed the winning bike had a 3/4-gallon tank, so it was useless for actual riding. That much gas will get you maybe 30 miles. You would lose your mind, filling it up five times a day. Paul’s defense: it actually held a full gallon.


To criticize Junior’s use of prefab parts, James said something like, “Here’s the sound of progress at PJD: ‘beep beep beep.'” He was imitating the UPS truck, backing up to drop off tanks and frames. I cackled.

I was always impressed by Junior’s work, but who would ride one of his bikes? They were made to go in glass cases in the lobbies of corporate headquarter buildings.

The bike James built was much better than the one that beat it, even if it was not as creative. It was well-proportioned. It was tasteful. It looked great. And it probably went farther than 30 miles.

James does a lot of his own work, instead of ordering things. He has a forge in his garage. That’s hard core. He has a mill, some kind of crazy press for forging hot metal, a planishing hammer, and probably every machine tool and welding tool known to man.

That impresses me. Making things the easy way sucks the soul out of them. If people can’t see the brush strokes, is it still art, or is it something more like printing?

His new thing is a firearms company, and he makes 1911 pistols and AR-xx rifles.

I went to the site to look it over, expecting to see a bunch of dubious crap, but I have to say it: he makes the nicest-looking 1911s I’ve ever seen. He makes Damascus slides for them. You really have to see it for yourself. Magnificent.

He told an interviewer he made something like 80% of the parts. I thought that was great. And I figured it was true, because a guy who gets highly worked up about making things by hand would not put his name on other people’s stuff just to make money.

Well, guess what? The pistols are made by STI, a well-known gun company that competes with outfits like Wilson and Les Baer. In another interview, he admitted it. He only makes certain bits.


The fact that he would maybe not be totally truthful about it sours me on the whole deal. Not that I was planning to spend $5000 on a pistol.

I looked around to see what other people said about the guns, and the buzz doesn’t sound good. One guy claims they won’t fit in most holsters. That’s a serious problem. Who wants a $5000 pistol he has to carry in his hand? I mean, sure, I know nobody is really going to shoot one of these things, but you want to think it’s possible.

Also, he makes steel grips for his pistols. There is no way that’s a good idea. If it were a good idea, Colt would have done it, because it’s cheap. Steel is heavy, it’s slick, and it rusts. Come on. The grips look fantastic, but there is no way they work in real life. And even if they’re comfortable and grippy, who ever said, “You know, I just wish my carry 1911 were five ounces heavier”?

I knew Jesse James was not a candidate for sainthood, but at least I respected his honesty about his work. I figured that was sort of an anchor for him. Now that’s over. Also, I think a man who makes pistols with iron grips has to be careful about criticizing a man who makes a bike that only goes 30 miles.

I guess I should add that the bike Jesse James built has a smallish tank, and it probably won’t run for more than two hours. Hmm.

If you get a minute, go over to his site and check the guns out. I still think it would be neat to have one. My guess is that they’ll increase in value, and they would be great collector’s items. The site is JJFU.com.

Come to Dinner, DragonLord; Your Spaghetti-O’s are Getting Cold

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

I Descend into the Culture of Undateable Males who Play D&D

I guess I should know better than to do this, but I decided to try a new hobby: knifemaking.

Hear me out. Yes, I realize I have 10,000 tools, and I produce little of value with them. I still don’t have CNC under control. Yes. True. But if you think about it, knifemaking isn’t really a new hobby. It’s something to do with the stuff I already have.

Knives were a big part of my childhood. My favorite great uncle lived down the road from my grandfather, and when I was staying with my grandparents, I used to walk to his house and trade knives with him.

Trading knives is something you’re supposed to do, if you live in Eastern Kentucky.

He had a cigar box full of old pocketknives, like Cases and Remingtons, and he used to show them to me and tell me which brands were best.

I think he got the best of me most of the time.

Since I’ve been old enough to have pockets, I’ve always carried a knife. Unusual for a kid raised in Florida suburbs. I carried one in school. Try that now. The estrogen dealers who run the schools would tape you to a chair and have you analyzed.

The first decent pocketknife I owned was a Gerber. They used to make good knives. I went into a store in Lexington, Kentucky and bought a PK-2 folder made from 440C, which is a wonderful type of stainless steel.

I could tell it was a step up from the knives people up in the hills traded. You could spend an hour carving on a piece of hardwood and still use it to pop little hairs off of your wrist. It stayed sharp. That doesn’t work with a 1970 Case pocketknife.

I carry a Gerber Gator II now. It’s a big knife with a rubbery handle. The steel is not great, but it sharpens fast, and that means I’m less reluctant to use it. When you use a knife, you dull it, and then you have to sharpen it, and that’s work.

There are two nice things about the Gator. First, it cost me $15. It was so cheap, I bought two. Second, you can open it instantly by flicking your wrist. You don’t have to have a thumb stud, and you don’t have to worry about it popping open in your pants, the way switchblades do. I carried a switchblade for a while, and it tended to open by itself. It had a safety, but that made it busy and annoying to open.

For some reason or other, I decided to look at a knifemaker’s Youtube videos the other day. I don’t want to say his name. They were very informative. I was shocked to see how easy it was to make a knife. Basically, you buy a piece of flat steel, and you use files and a belt grinder to shape it. Then you drill a couple of holes in it and attach the grips and hardware, and you sand it to the correct profile.

I can do that! I had always been intimidated by knifemaking, but man, it’s simple.

Here’s why I won’t say the man’s name: his knives are awful. I looked at his website, and he had some knives for sale. I’m sure they work well, but they looked crude. That was encouraging. I knew I could draw something nicer than that. He seems like a great guy, so I do not want to do anything that could be perceived as calling him out.

I can already tell what I’m going to run into: the knife culture. There are a lot of weirdos out there who think of knives as horror movie props. I joined a forum, and I’m sure I’m going to run into guys who call themselves things like Dethskull and DragonLord. I want no part of that mindset. I am not interested in making scary instruments that look like the devil uses them to pick his teeth. I’m not looking to make boot knives or belt buckle knives or stilettos I can polish while staring at white supremacist forums. I do think it would be nice to have some custom-made kitchen knives, though.

I decided to start with a birds beak paring knife. The Japanese make them. It’s a tiny knife with a curved, pointed blade. I don’t pare anything, but these knives are great for boning poultry. I bought a couple of pricey Japanese ones, and they’re not very good. On top of that, like most Japanese kitchen knives, they have to be treated like sick babies. They fall apart if you blink at them. I also have two $5 Forschners with plastic handles. Very nice, but I’d like to have something with a thicker blade.

As far as I know, the 440C knives I’ve had have been the best, so I checked around, and it looks like this is a popular steel for beginners. I found a 12″ bar for $9, so I don’t think I can go wrong. I ordered a few bits to go with it.

I don’t have a big, manly 2×72 belt grinder, which is the optimal tool for shaping knives, but I do have a 1×42, and it will get the job done eventually.

The big problem with this is that if I succeed, I’ll have to fix a turkey. That’s a lot of work.

It would also be nice to have a 440C cleaver shaped to resemble the astonishing $9 carbon steel cleaver I bought from The Wok Shop. If you have no other kitchen knife, and you can learn to use a diamond sharpener, this is the knife you want.

The stuff should get here next week. If I get anywhere with it, I’ll post a photo. If not, I’ll delete this post and pretend nothing happened.

One Bad Turn Deserves Another

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Parts is not Parts

The lathe is still driving me nuts. Actually, I think Fusion 360 is the culprit.

I took a 7×14 mini-lathe and turned it into a CNC machine. It should be possible to cut parts to within maybe three thousandths of spec on this thing. So far, that has not worked out.

I had problems adjusting the steps-per-inch figures on the screws. I more or less got past that. Then I had problems with backlash compensation. Now the screws work reasonably well, but I am having lots of trouble turning ideas into parts. CAD and CAM are holding me back.

If I had a mill, I’d be sitting pretty. There a bazillion CNC mill jockeys out there, and the people who make software bend over backward to help them. I would have lots of resources to call on. Because I have a lathe, everyone is pretty much hoping I will go away and die.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, CNC lathes are not that common, and it’s hard to get help.

I can draw stuff in Fusion 360 CAD. It’s a non-intuitive, somewhat annoying program, but as CAD goes, it’s a breeze. I can also create tool paths and G code using Fusion 360 CAM. What I can’t do is get the x-axis to work right.

No matter what I do, the CAM program decides to move all the x stuff toward me by about a third of an inch. Here’s the result: if I design a cylinder 1″ in diameter, and I try to make it from a 1.25″ piece of stock, the cutting tool won’t even touch it. It will move back and forth maybe 1.30″ from the lathe’s axis, doing nothing.

Here’s something weirder: the x issue doesn’t pop up when I’m facing. The word “facing” refers to putting a flat surface on the right end of a part. To face a part, you have to push the tool halfway across it. If you’re facing inward, as I am, you have to start at the outside and push the tool all the way to the center. My lathe does that, and it’s an x-axis process. When it tries to reduce the diameter of a part–also an x thing–it misses the part completely.

The x-axis works for some things, and it’s useless for others.

People are telling me it’s because I have Mach3 set up for radius measurements and Fusion 360 set up for diameter measurements, but that’s wrong, because compensating for that when I start the lathe doesn’t help, and anyway, it wouldn’t explain why facing works perfectly.

I accomplished quite a bit today, even though I’m still not able to make Fusion 360 turn out parts. I learned a lot, and I managed to enter specs for my cutting tool into the program. One measurement is off by a few degrees, but it looks like it’s the best I can do in this program, and it will probably never make a difference, since the very tip of the tool is the only thing that touches the work. Turning the tool insert 3 degrees in the xy-plane amounts to nearly nothing.

I will keep poking people until they give me answers. If necessary, I will just annoy them until they do the work themselves to make me go away.

The big lesson, which is really being driven home now, is that smart people do not build CNC lathes. You buy a commercial CNC lathe, you buy a mill, or you build a mill. Listen and avoid my pain.

Tony Stark is an Amateur

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Behold my Creation

Yesterday was a big day, tool-wise. I used CAD to design a part, and I managed to make my CNC lathe cut something using the design.

Notice I did not say I got a proper part; just that I got the lathe to use the design I made.

Here is the design; I’m not sure why I used a cell phone instead of a screen grab, but anyway:

08 05 16 first CNC design attempted on lathe in Delrin - fusion 360 screen web

That’s a tool handle. I don’t need a tool handle, but I figured it was the sort of thing I might want to make in the future, so I designed one.

Here is the part I actually cut:

08 05 16 first CNC design attempted on lathe in Delrin - actual part web

As you can see, it’s a wee bit off.

Here is how CNC works, at least in my mind. You draw a part in a CAD program. You open the file in a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) program, and it tells the computer how to write a Gcode file that goes to your controller. The controller–in my case a board–tells the machine motors what to do.

Essentially, the CAM program turns a picture into a path a tool follows as it cuts.

Last night, I learned that it gets even more annoying. I use Fusion 360, Autodesk’s free CAD/CAM program. In Fusion 360, you have to create something called a “setup” before you make your Gcode, and you also have to come up with a file called a “post processor.” I found this definition online: “The software that converts CL-file CAD/CAM data to specific machine tool commands is called a Post Processor.>

I don’t know what “CL” means, but I’ll let that pass.

The post processor communicates with the machine control program, which is the software that tells the control hardware what to do.

I guess this is not easy to follow. I’ll make a list.

1. CAD file
2. Setup
3. Post processor
4. CAM program ==> Gcode file
5. Control program
6. Controller
7. Motor amplifier
8. Machine motors

I think that’s about right.

Numbers 6 and 7 are pieces of hardware. My controller is a KFlop board, and my amplifier is a KStep board. The amplifier takes control signals from the controller and turns them into current that drives the motors.

LinuxCNC and Mach3 are control programs.

It’s a mess, isn’t it?

Fusion 360, like just about everything else in the CNC world, does not like lathes. At least it doesn’t like hobby lathes put together in garages. As a result, the creators made no effort–none–to make it work with Mach3’s turning software. That means it lacks a Mach3 lathe post processor file. I had to go dig one up. Other people had the same problem, predictably, so they came up with files that seemed to work. “Seemed.”

Installing a new post processor file in Fusion 360 is not fun. The program hides the location of its processor files. The trick is to open an existing file in Fusion 360’s editor, and it will display the path to all of the post processor files. Then you can move your file to that folder manually. Which I did.

There were problems.

First of all, the setup utility in Fusion 360 is not easy to work with. You have to set it for turning, and then you have to describe the uncut stock to it. You have to program a coordinate system into it, so it doesn’t run backward. You have to describe the tool you’re using. All the while, Fusion 360 will try to reset things after you’ve set them yourself. I have to get some help with that.

It uses language I don’t understand. I know about things like clearance and depth of cut, but Fusion 360 gets into “overlap” and “smoothing” and so on. It defines terms for you…sometimes. The way you bring up the definitions is to hover over stuff you don’t understand. If you’re lucky, an explanatory popup appears. But sometimes you’re not lucky.

I did the best I could, and I sent the Gcode to Mach3. I had three major issues.

First, the x-coordinates don’t work. I kept telling the machinery where the tip of the lathe was supposed to start, but it kept deciding the +x side of the work was an inch closer to me than it really was. This meant that if I ran the program on a 3/4″ piece of Delrin, it missed the work entirely.

I wanted to see something happen, even if it was wrong, so I lied to the machine about the x location, and my lying wild guess was about 0.100″ off. As a result, the part is a lot skinnier than it should be. Not a catastrophe. I’m happy it exists at all.

Second, the cuts are way too deep. In Delrin, which is plastic, a mini-lathe can do a 0.100″ cut without crashing. Try that in steel. No way.

Third, the Gcode crashed my controller. I think it died when it hit a G0 command. I looked G0 up, and all I found was “rapid positioning.” Whatever it means, the lathe stopped moving, and the control board locked up and had to be restarted. The part was not finished.

Now I have to know: did the code kill the controller, and if so, is it a controller problem or a Mach3 problem? If it’s a controller problem, then the post processor I found is no good, and I have to find out how to fix it. I already know Mach3 and the controller get along. So basically, I need to go to MIT for three or four years and then come back and solve the problem.

I’m happy, regardless. I designed something. I turned it into a part. That’s progress.

Life is not all peaches and honey, however. I got some news about my sister. She left a homeless shelter at some point this year, and no one knows where she is. Yesterday a letter arrived, at an address she left long ago. Someone showed it to me. I can’t say what it was about, but it was bad news for her financially and in other ways. It will catch up with her eventually.

I used to be concerned because she had been disinherited. I used to pray for her inheritance to be restored. Now I know that was not a good idea, and I understand why God didn’t agree with my prayers.

It made me think, and it helped me understand some general truths about wealth.

I’m not sure people think clearly when they make their wills. They work hard all their lives, and they store up wealth that can be a tremendous help to their descendants. What happens when you leave that kind of gift to a person who has immense debt, or who spends profusely? It’s as if you put it in a pile and set fire to it. It vanishes.

Think about it. What if you have two kids; one has zero debt, and the other owes someone $500,000? Say you leave $250,000 to each kid; what happens? Immediately, half of your wealth is gone. It’s as if you never had it. The creditor takes it, and then the broke kid goes to the other kid and tries to get the rest of it, bit by bit.

If you have more than one child, and you cut off the children who have debt, their creditors can’t do a thing. You never owed them, and neither did the other children. The wealth is insulated from attack. It’s common sense, but people don’t seem to think about it. They leave money to children who are essentially bags with no bottoms. It goes right through them and into the hands of other people.

People sometimes favor their irresponsible children, saying they “need” the money. That’s like saying Charlie Sheen needs more coke. If you want to be Santa Claus, give money to people who have nothing. If you want to conserve wealth and bless your kids, give it to people who look after what they have.

Children who have debts feel they’re more entitled to inherit. That’s just denial.

The conviction that you have to give handouts to people indiscriminately is also denial. It can make their problems worse and add to yours, especially if the people you give money to are abusers you used to pray to be freed from. It’s like inviting a vampire into your house.

It’s a bad idea to grab a tar baby once you’ve gotten loose. You’re asking for whatever misery ensues. Who will you blame? Will you go to God and ask him to free you again?

Some people have to keep repeating mistakes, and often, helping them is so costly, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not even help. It’s even worse when the people you try to help are folks who spend their time insulting you, lying to others about you, and scheming to take things from you. Generosity and compassion are extremely important, but you have to be very careful. You wouldn’t want to lend the bum on the corner money for bolt-cutters to rob your house.

I remember a time when I considered marrying someone who had debt. I didn’t know about the debt; I didn’t ask. Love conquers all! Thinking about money is tasteless and coarse!

That was stupid. Man, I was an idiot. I should have asked. If you marry someone who is debt-free, the cost of the wedding and honeymoon is your only immediate expense. If you marry someone who owes $100,000, you are immediately on the hook for the marriage, the honeymoon, and…$100,000. No one with any sense would spend a hundred grand on a wedding, but people do it every day without knowing it.

Instant cost of marrying debt-free spouse: $5000, if you’re sane. Okay, I didn’t include the ring.

Instant cost of marrying big spender: $105,000.


Also, the debt a wastrel has at the time of marriage is just the beginning. It’s a tiny tumor that hasn’t blossomed yet. It will get much bigger eventually. No irresponsible woman ever decided that marriage was her cue to stop spending.

Marriage isn’t about money, but debt is slavery. It’s hell. Marry a slave; become a slave.

Jesus said those who had a lot would receive more, while those who had little would lose what they had. It’s true. People build or destroy, in every area of their lives.

I’m grateful for the people I can help. The rest just make me shake my head. I certainly hope I can be helped.

Blessings only go to people who can be blessed.

The Bible talks a lot about the fatherless. That’s me. You can have a father and be fatherless. If no one passes wisdom on to you when you’re young, you are fatherless. It’s disgraceful to be my age and to be surprised by wisdom other people accept at the age of ten.

God is a good father. He doesn’t just give you stuff you crave; that’s what pimps do to hookers. He teaches you. He improves you. He changes you so you have productive habits and thoughts. I wish I had known him decades ago, but, of course, fatherless people don’t have the wisdom to understand that they’re fatherless. I wasn’t interested.

I hope I still have enough time left to benefit from the things God shows me. If not, at least I get to relate them to younger people.

More Reasons to go Back in Time and Beat my Younger Self

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

The Golden Screw

I am still working on my CNC mini-lathe.

It seems that one of my big problems was misunderstanding the purpose of CNC. I thought of CNC as something intended to allow machinists to cut shapes which are difficult or impossible in manual machining. There is some truth to that, but CNC is also intended to save time.

Back when I was working on a kibbutz in 1984, I stupidly chose to be a grapefruit picker. The kibbutz had a CNC factory, and I could have learned a lot there. One of the volunteers said there was a machine they called “the golden screw.” You put a piece of brass in, and shortly thereafter, you pulled out a finished part with threads on it. A hungover teenager from Germany could do it. Machinists were not required.

I suppose it illustrates the deep purpose of CNC: to avoid paying any more for labor (or anything else) than absolutely necessary. Paying a skilled machinist a high wage for performing lots of operations on a brass part could raise the retail price to a hundred dollars or more. Paying a kid virtually nothing to shove parts into a machine and take them out is cheaper. And the faster the machine works, the cheaper it will be.

Earlier this year, when I started trying to get my lathe to work, I was confused because it seemed my references had a strange obsession with speed. There was a lot of information about making the lathe zip around like the Flash looking for an outhouse after a pie-eating contest. I thought it was bizarre that a person who made parts in his garage would care that much about speed. Of course, I failed to consider the fact that most CNC users are not in garages. They’re trying to make money.

If you have a $100,000 CNC lathe, I’m sure speed is no problem. It should be made to take it. But if you convert a manual machine, things are different. The machine has a limited tolerance for jerking and accelerating.

I had problems with the lathe skipping steps, sua sponte, in Gcode programs. I learned that it somehow decided to omit steps it couldn’t handle. Also, the couplers that turn the screws rely on friction, so if you make the motion too snappy, they can spin without turning the screws.

Last night I was working on getting my x-axis steps-per-inch and backlash figures right. I tried to cut a rounded end on a piece of Delrin. The lathe wandered off and crashed into the work. It skipped the steps that pulled it back from the work, so it kept moving forward.

The reason for this was that I had raised the motor’s velocity. The lathe decided to skip certain steps. When I lowered the velocity, everything worked.

Now it appears that I can machine things to within a few thousandths of spec, which is an improvement. The lathe works well enough to make parts, and that means it works well enough to be used as a teaching tool. So I have to have new goals.

First of all, I have to get on top of CAD and CAM. Mach3, the program that runs the lathe, offers prefab wizards for simple operations, but you can’t type in “door knob” and get a part. If you want to make anything more unusual than a screw, you have to draw it in CAD and send it to the lathe.

I am capable of drawing parts in Fusion360, Autodesk’s incredible free program. Now I have to find out how to get those parts to my contoller.

I also need to learn about tool placement. When you turn on a CNC lathe, the tool has to know exactly where it is, and that’s not as simple as it may sound to a person who isn’t a machinist. Locating something to within a thousandth of an inch is a job. If you have to use more than one tool on a part, you have to locate more than one tool.

Some people make revolving tool holders. You can put a right-hand tool in one mount and a threading tool in another, and you can program the controller to rotate the appropriate tool into place at the correct time. It won’t work unless you know where the tips of the tools are.

I don’t need a rotating tool holder; I should be able to get by with a turret or quick change tool post. But even then, I’ll need to be able to index everything accurately and tell the lathe where the tips will be.

By “index,” I mean there will have to be something on the lathe that forces the tool holder to fit perfectly into a preset position. Whatever this reference object is, the tool holder will “index” against it.

I don’t think a motorized tool holder makes sense for me. It will cost much more time than it will save. I’m not in a hurry, so I don’t mind programming pauses into my programs that will allow me to change tools manually.

I’m closer to getting the threading problem fixed. If I had known that my KFlop controller required two inputs for threading, I would have bought something else, because Mach3 likes one input. I have the KFlop, so I have to make it work.

I’ve had problems trying to find optical switches for it. I will need to mount a disk on the spindle with a slot in it, and I’ll need two slotted switches mounted at 90 degrees to each other. I kept trying to find a switch that would provide the KFlop with the required 3.3-5V input. I looked at datasheets, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t list output voltage.

Of course, I was looking for a figure that doesn’t exist. I was looking at switches, and switches put out whatever voltage you feed into them. If you buy a rocker switch, the literature will list a maximum voltage, but beyond that, V-in equals V-out, so the datasheet won’t give you an output voltage.

I figured this out after asking some questions on a forum. It should have been obvious. The problem is that I had preconceived notions about transistors. Optical switches use transistors to provide output, and I am used to thinking of transistors as voltage amplifiers with a gain higher than 1, so I just assumed the switches made their own decisions about output voltage.

After all this is done, I’m going to want ball screws. The screws I have now are just too aggravating to work with. I keep trying to pin down the correct figure for steps per inch, but it’s elusive, and I think the screws are the reason. A setting that works fine in one trial will be slightly off the next time.

You would think you could rely on simple math, starting with the pitch of the screws, but I got bad results that way.

I am told I need fat screws, because they work better than skinny ones. I keep checking Ebay. It looks like it’s going to be a minimum of $150, all told. But it beats chasing numbers I will never catch with ordinary screws.

The lathe is not going to be the answer to my turning prayers. It will be wonderful for threading and for turning shapes that aren’t plain old combinations of cylinders, but it won’t be a milling machine. It seems like a milling machine would have been way more useful.

I suspect that even threading would be easy on a mill. You could make a threading cutter and make it go around a vertical workpiece, or you could put the workpiece in the spindle and run it past a stationary cutter. Maybe. I know they make CNC rotary tables for mills, so you should be able to mount workpieces in them and rotate the work that way. Anyway, the lathe is not looking like the optimal choice.

Oh boy. I was right. I just found a video.

Who wants to buy a lathe?

I exaggerate, but you can see what I’m saying.

Regardless of whether it makes sense, I will get this thing working. Maybe some day I’ll be able to make a little CNC milling attachment to go on the carriage, allowing me to mill things as big as 2″ by 2″. Hooray.

The C programming is going fine, although I had a strange problem. I wrote a program and got it working. Then I modified it, and it refused to change. It compiled fine, but it continued to do what it did before I modified it. Deleting the executable file didn’t help. I can’t figure that out.

I changed the source file name and compiled it, and it works. I can modify it.

It’s like the executable for the program that won’t change is stuck in my computer somewhere, refusing to leave.

If I produce anything useful, you can bet you will hear about it here.

Who Says the Greeks Don’t Want no Freaks?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

History says Otherwise

I’m thinking about technology today.

I read something interesting this morning. Edward Snowden, the fugitive hacker who lifted the rock off of our government’s slimy, Constitution-killing surveillance programs, accepted a visit from journalists. He told them to put their phones in the refrigerator. Why? Because that way, if Barack Obama turned the phones’ microphones and cameras on, he would see nothing but beer bottles and cold pizza.

It’s funny to me, because I’m one of those rare people who avoid showing their phones and tablets things they don’t want seen. I do not use the phone on the toilet. When I say things I really don’t want it to hear, I put it in a drawer. I don’t think anyone is interested in what I do–today–but it’s good practice. You never know who will develop an interest in the future. There are a lot of actresses out there who wish they had kept their phones in drawers or their drawers on.

Apparently, Snowden knows the government does, in fact, listen to us and watch us via our phones. Confirmation. If only we could turn the tables. I suppose we would spend a lot of time throwing up, though.

I worry about tech privacy in some regards, and in others, I’ve made a conscious decision to give up. Privacy was one reason I got rid of Facebook and Twitter; I thought it was a bad idea for everyone in the universe to know what I had had for lunch every day for the past three years. On the other hand, I accept the fact that the government tracks all of my driving, because I can’t do anything about it. I also blog, knowing that what I write will surely be used against me in the future. I use email and a cell phone, knowing my communications are stored away somewhere, by people I find disgusting.

In the law, we have a concept we call “ex post facto,” which means something or other in Latin. It looks like “from after the fact,” but then I got a D in Latin. It means you can’t punish someone retroactively, for breaking a law you make today. It doesn’t seem to work very well. Bill Clinton taxed people retroactively. But we do rely on it. We sort of assume the legal things we did in the past won’t be used against us in the future.

One glaring problem with the policy against ex post facto punishment is that it depends on laws that can be changed in the future. If you pass a law saying ex post facto punishment is okay, then it doesn’t really matter what the law said a day earlier. You’re on the hook. You can change the law, but the past is carved in stone.

Another problem is that it doesn’t bind private individuals. If the general public decides to persecute you for past deeds of which they approved when you performed them, there isn’t anything you can do.

In the future, people like me will be persecuted and probably prosecuted for legal self-expression. In 2025, it will probably be possible to take all sorts of legal action against me for things I said legally in 2014. It will definitely be possible to take social action; it already is.

That’s life. Maybe “smart” conservatives will take down their blogs and beg for forgiveness. Maybe they’ll make convenience conversions to liberalism and atheism. It worked for Arianna Huffington. Of course, assimilation didn’t work too well for Jews under Hitler, so maybe we can’t do anything now to save ourselves.

Everything is documented now. We swim in evidence.

File all this under, “That’s tough.”

I’m also thinking about programming. I wrote a little about this a few days ago. I got my CNC lathe to work, sort of, and then I found out the program that came with it, which tells the motors what to do, isn’t very good. I’m sure it’s great for mill users, but lathe users are the red-headed stepchildren of CNC, and hobbyists are also red-headed stepchildren. Maybe that makes me a red-headed step-grandchild.

Anyway, the program depends on a lot of files written in the computer language C. The manufacturer admits that you should know C in order to deal with his invention. That’s not a knock on the manufacturer. Surely getting the electronics and software to the point where they are was a Herculean task. I don’t want to abuse anyone for failing to take it further.

I do not know C. I had a small amount of interest in programming in the Nineties, but it withered and died. While I was getting my physics degree, they made me take a Pascal course, and that’s about all I’ve done, apart from hacking php, css, and html files in order to blog. I did that hacking very clumsily, by trial and error. I didn’t know what I was doing.

I don’t know why my advisor told me to take Pascal. It was a MONUMENTAL mistake. I looked Pascal up, and it’s not very useful. For the most part, it’s a teaching language. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

Initially, Pascal was largely, but not exclusively, intended to teach students structured programming.A generation of students used Pascal as an introductory language in undergraduate courses.

Pascal was used in the development of some Apple products, but, hello, just about everything else in the world is based on C or a related language. Teaching future programmers Pascal is like teaching UN interpreters Esperanto. A complete waste of time. And my experience has proven that. I believe I wrote one or two programs in Pascal back in the deep past, for purposes I no longer recall, but today I am, essentially, a programming cripple. That’s where Pascal got me.

My undergrad advisor at the University of Miami was a great instructor, but he gave me some really bad advice. He told me grad schools didn’t care about the physics GRE, so I shouldn’t waste time studying for it. Yeah…okay. The Pascal suggestion came from him, too.

I love MOOC sites. “MOOC” stands for something I don’t remember, but it basically means online education. I decided to check Udemy, Edx, and Coursera for C courses. I didn’t see anything I liked. There were a lot of C++ and C# offerings, but I read that these languages were not really C or helpful to C users, so I blew that off.

I decided to check Youtube, and I found a couple of good offerings which I will not link to. The best one for barely sentient beginners was run by a user called Thecodingschool or something similar. I started watching and doing exercises, but I soon realized they were crawling. It would take me a year to get anywhere. I looked for a book.

Amazon had a number of offerings. I looked at them and decided the one I wanted was a beginner’s guide by a guy named Kochan. As luck would have it, it’s available at an online lending library, so I am using that. I may buy the book or a Kindle version, though, because the library thing is hard to read.

The thing that surprises me is that I’m doing very well. I am finding C very easy. Pascal was a different experience, even though it’s basically the same thing. When I wrote Pascal programs, my absent-mindedness drove me up the wall. I left characters out or put them in the wrong places, and I would spend ages reading the same code over and over, looking for the booboos. This time I’m making mistakes, but finding and fixing them isn’t nearly as bad. I can’t explain why.

The book has programming exercises in it. I can’t stand them. It’s just too boring; when an activity is too dull, it slides off the brain like a blunt instrument. I had to make it more interesting, so instead of doing the exercises, I do things that are different but related to the exercises.

I can’t resist making the code silly. I think that’s hardwired into me. Here’s a program I wrote yesterday:


main ()
//int dancer, prancer; This didn’t work. Apparently you can’t divide two integers and get a float.
float dancer, prancer, vixen;

printf(“Enter a number: “);
scanf(“%f”, &dancer);
printf(“Enter another number, if you can think of one: “);
scanf(“%f”, &prancer);
vixen = dancer / prancer;
printf(“Here is %0.2f divided by %0.2f (to six places after the decimal), and that’s exciting: %0.6f.”, dancer, prancer, vixen);
//If you leave fflush in, the program stays open and waits for you to enter a key before giving you the final
//”enter any key” message. You have to hit 2 keys in order to make the CMD window close.
//The values %d and %i mean “integer.” They are fungible.
/*Here is another way of adding comments.*/


As you can see, I’m using the programs to do little experiments to answer questions, and I take notes inside the programs, to help me remember. Here, I tried to divide one integer by another and produce a float, which is a number that extends past the decimal point. The computer didn’t like it.

It beats printing “Hello World” over and over. Now that I think about it, my “Hello World” program was actually, “Hello, Fat Jackass.”


You have to do something to keep yourself awake.

My feeling now is that if you have to watch videos in order to learn this, you might as well kill yourself, because it will really hurt.

I’ve learned something new. A lot of our modern machines can be penetrated with programming. C, supposedly, is the king of languages for operating machinery. That includes robots and so on. So if you want to do anything really interesting with motors and whatnot, C is for you. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the impression I get from what others say.

I also found out that you can buy little robots and write code for them so they do stuff. I guess this is how we ended up with self-driving cars invading our privacy. There is a language called Pbasic, which I refuse to capitalize, which works with certain popular microcontrollers. You can get yourself an inexpensive robot and Pbasic it all over the place. I don’t know how much C would help a person who needs Pbasic, but it probably can’t hurt.

I plan to look into that if I ever get the lathe functioning correctly. I feel like it would make me feel less intimidated by the machinery around me. Maybe the computerized toaster and portable phones would tense up and start to sweat when I came into the room. That would be nice.

In other news, I completed Thucydides and started in on Plato’s Symposium. My short take on Thucydides: the Athenians were evil, disgusting people. They whined and moaned about excellence and virtue all the time, but they kept slaves in their homes, they destroyed other cities, they slaughtered untold thousands of people just for getting on their nerves, and they were colossal thieves. They were right up there with the Nazis. I have zero respect for them, even though I acknowledge their mental achievements.

The small amount I’ve read recently tells me I probably did not read The Symposium when I was at Columbia University, because I think I would remember the revulsion it engenders.

When I was at Columbia, I thought gay sex was just fine. I was not much of a Christian. I would not have been offended by the Athenian predilection for sodomy. What would have bothered me is the predilection for boys. The Athenians didn’t prey on their equals. They sodomized small boys and teens who were weaker and less informed. Even in my younger days, I would have been bothered by that.

The Symposium starts out with a long discussion of “love,” and by “love,” it means the phony, self-deluding love between an erastes (older sexual predator) and an eromenos (younger victim). If erastes looks familiar, it’s because it’s related to the word “pederast.”

A man (presumably a real person) stands up and says there are two types of love; a high kind and a low or common kind. The heavenly kind is the love a predator shares with a victim who is old enough to have sprouted the beginnings of a beard, and supposedly, it is largely based on a desire to help the younger victim improve himself. The low kind is the love a predator shares with a younger boy, who is simply a sexual device intended to satisfy lust.

This reasoning reminds me of the bilge spewed by molesters in Internet chat rooms. They say we don’t understand their pure, altruistic love. They say it’s good for the kids. They say kids consent, which is surely true sometimes. We still put the molesters away, and in prison, criminals still rape and kill them.

Somehow we’re supposed to accept this from the ancient Greeks, while we imprison people for it today. That’s crazy. It’s the same. Man’s laws change; that which is evil remains evil.

It’s remarkable that we have studied this work in our universities for so long. I can understand how it would have been popular in my youth, because universities were already pretty gross at that time. But I don’t understand how it could have passed inspection in 1900 or earlier.

My skin crawls when I read the book, but I want to get it over with, so I will continue. I think this is the book that mentions the cave and the ideal forms and so on. I will take whatever profitable information it has to offer and try to forget the rest.

Incidentally, people who get their Greek history from the movie 300 may be surprised to learn that the Spartans weren’t the big military power in ancient Greece, and they weren’t the leading sexual predators. The Athenians topped them (poor choice of words) in both regards. In the movie, Leonidas calls the violent, imperialist Athenians “boy-lovers,” but Plato’s book tells us the Spartans had a reputation for “common” love, or sex with very young boys.

I look forward to getting past the Greeks. I ordered Ovid and Vergil, so I will be reading the Romans before long.

I Don’t Accept Cookies

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Buckets of Pure Cocaine Would be Safer

The weight-maintenance-cookie plan was a disaster of Hindenburgian completeness. I have firmly concluded that it is not possible to adjust my calorie intake using cookies made from my own recipe.

I was doing just fine using Oreos. I ate three or four a day, just to take the edge off and restore my mental functions. I figured there was no reason better cookies wouldn’t do the same thing, cheaper and more enjoyably.

The batch of cookies I made from scratch is completely gone. It vanished in two days. I could not stay away from them. They taunted me They jeered at me. And now they are no more.

Lesson learned. Night before last I picked up a new bag of Oreos, and yesterday I put them to use. I went through a grand total of three. Oreos just don’t have the temptation punch my own cookies have.

The oatmeal cookies I made were stupendous, but now I can’t have them. One more recipe I can’t use. Dang it.

I wonder if I could come up with a recipe for mediocre cookies. Probably not. It seems like anything that comes out of a home oven beats anything that comes from a plastic bag.

Oreos have gone nuts. Things got weird thirty or forty years ago when they came out with “Double Stuf” Oreos. Someone at Nabisco realized fat people were only buying the cookies for the filling. Now they have “Mega Stuf.” Next they’ll have “Pure Stuf” or “Gallon Can o’ Stuf.”

They have birthday-cake-flavored Oreos now. Wonder what that’s like. Do they come pre-sprayed with spit, to simulate the blowing out of candles?

American consumers are not hard to please. The buying habits of chubby ladies prove this.

When I was a kid, Nestle started selling raw cookie dough so incredibly lazy people could use it to make cookies. At some point we all accepted reality: fat girls were buying it to eat out of the tube. Now you can buy ice cream and protein bars made to taste like raw cookie dough.

Prefab cookie dough is very popular, but the thing is, it’s not good. I don’t know what Nestle puts in their dough to serve as shortening, but I’m confident it’s not butter. The dough tastes sort of like toothpaste with sugar in it. People love it anyway.

My cookie experience shows how things really are: the supermarket junk we think is good is actually pretty lame. We like it because we’re lazy. The British have a saying: “Hunger is the best sauce.” I would say laziness is second best. When you get off your rear end and make real cookies, or even cookie dough, you understand the depth of the compromises you’ve made in the past.

God has given me more strength to turn food down, but there are some things I still have to stay away from. I can’t keep bags of fun size Snickers in the freezer. I can’t keep miniature Reese’s cups on the coffee table. And I can’t keep homemade cookies anywhere near me.

I feel like he’s helping me get off caffeine again. A long time ago he showed me that caffeine destroys peace. I quit drinking it. But when I had to take over my dad’s business affairs, I jumped off the wagon. The boredom of using Quickbooks and straightening up chaotic files was more than my mortal frame could stand. Now things are more orderly, and I have to give up the crutch. I do not want to spend the rest of my life feeling peppy and cheerful until noon and then crabby and crotchety for the rest of the day. I don’t want to have to take Benadryl to get to sleep.

God changes peoples habits, and it seems like he really hits hard in the beverage department. You find yourself cutting way back on alcohol. Sugary sodas turn into occasional treats. Fruit juices are just sugary soda without the gas, so they’re not the answer. That leaves coffee and tea, right? Wrong. Caffeine.

Today I’m going to get a bag of decaffeinated coffee beans. I can’t drink room temperature bottled water at breakfast every day. I am not ready for that.

I’m still fooling with the CNC mini-lathe. I got it to function with Mach3, the most popular home CNC machine-running program. I haven’t been able to get it to work with KMotionCNC, the nerdier, learning-curve-heavy free program that came with my controller board.

I think the people who made the board don’t care about lathes. They’re not going to come out and say that, but it seems to be true. Their program comes with a little viewing window that shows you an animated movie of your cutting tool at work. It’s set up perfectly for a big milling machine, but if you try to scale it for a lathe, it looks ridiculous. The software doesn’t give you a way to fix that.

The documentation that came with the boards says you need to know the computer language C in order to really understand what the software does. For that reason, I looked around for C courses yesterday. I tried Udemy and Edx. I wasn’t too impressed. C is an old language, and if I understand things correctly, it has morphed into newer languages like C++ and C# (C sharp). The online course offerings for plain old C aren’t that great. I decided to settle for a Youtube course.

The instructor said I had to get a compiler called Dev-C++, which is free. Right away I had problems. He uses version 4-something in the videos, and the current version is 5-something. It looks and works a little differently. So far I’ve been able to figure it out.

A compiler is a program that takes the code you write and turns it into program files. For example, you might write 30 lines of C or Pascal or whatever code, describing a program that lets you enter two numbers and then adds them and prints the result. You feed this into the compiler, and an “exe” file comes out the other end. When you want to experience the thrill of adding two integers, you double-click on “add.exe” or whatever you named it, and the program appears in a little DOS window (assuming it runs in DOS).

The first (only) language I learned was Pascal. I had to learn it in college. I used a compiler made by Borland. It was called Turbo Pascal. Dev-C++ is surely capable of much bigger things than Turbo Pascal, but to the user it looks pretty similar.

I learned a few things that were almost, but not quite, interesting. For example, the nerd term “ported” is a corruption that comes from “portable.” When you move a program from one OS to another, it’s portable, so you are–nails on a blackboard sound–“porting.” I can’t actually remember the other things, so I guess they truly were not interesting.

Here is how much interest I have in programming: zero, or even a large negative number. But if it will help me not have to go to surly, condescending nerds for help with technical stuff, I am all for it.

I’m still trying to figure out what kind of screws I need to make the lathe work well. At first I thought any ball screw would work. Then I found out some ball screws are very crude, so buying such a screw would fail to help or even make things worse. Then I found out there are levels of accuracy, designated “C” this or that, and I learned that most affordable screws were C7, which didn’t seem good enough.

After that, I read that the rigidity of the machine and the skill of the user make more difference than the quality of the screws. Is this true? I don’t know. The truth is a jittery target that skitters away every time I try to draw a bead on it.

A guy who supposedly knows a whole lot claims a plain old Acme screw will do fantastic work if you set it up right, and he says rigidity is more important than worrying about the number that comes after “C.” So maybe I need to buy a C7 screw in a big diameter; 3/4″ or better. I can do that for around a hundred bucks, if I go Taiwanese.

I’ve wondered why Acme screws were not considered useful. If I machine manually, I can get accuracy within a thousandth of an inch, relying on Acme screws and hand dials. Somehow that is not possible with a machine tool. You would think the computer would get better accuracy out of a screw than I can, but it looks like it doesn’t.

The topic is insanely complicated. Good screws aren’t the end of the discussion. For really accurate machining, some people use “screw mapping.” As I understand it, this means examining the screw with precision instruments and recording all its imperfections, so the computer will know to apply the correct compensation at every point on the screw.

Obviously, I am not going to do that. If I can get parts to measure within 0.002″ of spec, I will be the happiest man on earth. I’m not making crucial parts that prevent hydrogen bombs from going off. I don’t have to have perfection.

Now that the machine functions, I have to figure out how to design parts. I have a workable CAD program. I have to decide how to turn the CAD files into Gcode Mach3 can digest. I’m using Fusion360, from Autodesk, for CAD. It’s free. Not sure if it goes past CAD. I should design a part and see where I have to go with it.

Some day when I have room, I’ll get a mill. It will be a real CNC mill. I won’t spend my life on Ebay looking for bearings and screws. I’ll just place an order and wait for the machine. That will be nice. It doesn’t have to be big. Just sort of mid-sized, and it has to be something I can operate without pulling my hair out.

The CNC lathe will be very useful, but if you want CNC, what you really want is a mill. In fact, if you want to machine, period, you want a mill. I do not understand people who claim lathes are better. Most of the time, when you need a part, it will be something a mill can make easily, yet which a lathe can only make with weird, denial-reinforcing attachments.

If you want to make pens all day, sure, get a lathe. You’ll wish you had a mill, though.

Whatever you do with CNC, buy lots of plastic. You do NOT want to practice on metal parts. You will crash, and the crashes will damage your machine and cutting tools. Plastic will give, and it will provide a nice buffer between your mistakes and your checking account. Also, remember you can run programs in an animation window with the motors turned off. If the program looks funny in the animation, you do not want to run it with the motors on.

You can practice with wood instead of plastic, but it makes a mess.

Is this information useful to you? My hopes are not high, but I don’t care, because writing it was a very effective means of procrastination. I got what I wanted.

Wasting Time

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Mine and Yours

I have something to do in 45 minutes, so I can’t really sit down and dig into my new responsibilities. So here I am.

I have been reading Thucydides. I thought I was going to start sooner, but I looked at the Columbia University Lit. Hum. syllabus and discovered I was supposed to read Euripides (The Bacchae) first.

I think I should have taken the midterm last week. I would have been ready for it, which is more than I can say about my last time through this stuff.

I don’t believe in stealing copyrighted stuff, so I always look for cheap paper copies of whatever I read, even if I read it first on Scrib’d or whatever. I read The Odyssey on Scrib’d, and I also ordered a real copy. It’s still in the plastic.

I ordered a copy of Euripides V from Amazon, and then I read an earlier version at the Open Library, which is a site that “lends” ebooks. It has some connection to the Internet Archive, but the Archive has its own borrowing site. You figure it out. I am too lazy to look. I have accounts at both sites. I hope they’re taking care of authors’ rights, but anyway, I do use them. I took a look at a couple of drink recipes from Trader Vic’s without buying paper copies of the book. I hope that’s morally acceptable.

“Bacchae” rhymes with “wacky,” and maybe that’s fitting. It means “bacchants.” “Bacchant” (also “bacchante”) is pronounced “buh-Can’t.” It means a lady who worships Bacchus, the Bieber-like Greek God of drunkenness and–I don’t know–being effeminate maybe.

Here is the idea. Bacchus comes down to–wow, I’ve forgotten already–is it Thebes? Yes. The Thebes in Greece. He claims he’s Zeus’s son. His family says he’s a random illegitimate sissy. His cousin, Pentheus, is given the throne of Thebes, and Bacchus is rejected, although he does go on to a successful run, playing millionaire Thurston Howell on Sixties TV.

People who worship Bacchus go crazy. They get really drunk and run around the woods, dancing and fornicating. Women are the main participants, and during their craziness, they provide sex for any man who asks. This is not considered sleazy or sinful; it’s considered pious. Go figure.

It’s a remarkable thing to read, because it’s like a perverse reflection of being led by the Holy Spirit.

When you’re led by the Holy Spirit, you’re out of sync with the rest of the world. Like the bacchants, you seem irrational to other people, but you’re under the influence of a spirit who knows what he’s doing. You will do things that seem ill-advised from people who don’t hear from him.

The bacchants were also out of step with other people. Unlike Spirit-led Christians, they lost their free will and good sense. They did strange things. The mother of Pentheus got together with a group of bacchants and tore him to pieces, removing his head and so on. She didn’t know he was her son. She wanted to find Pentheus and tell him how she had helped kill the unbeliever.

Bacchus was the son of the highest Greek God, by a mortal woman. Jesus was the son of the real high God, by a mortal woman. Bacchus was rejected. Jesus was rejected. Bacchus sent a spirit to control people who followed him, and they did strange things. Jesus sent a spirit to help people rise above Satan and the world, and under that spirit’s influence, we do things other people don’t understand.

Bacchus gave humanity wine, and the Greeks thought that was a great gift, because it got people drunk. Jesus gave people his blood, which was represented by wine. When the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles, people thought they were drunk.

I have to wonder how much of this is coincidence. In the time of Euripides, Satan didn’t know about the crucifixion or the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but it seems like evil spirits pick up on things from time to time, getting little incomplete glimpses of the things God is up to.

Thucydides is interesting. His book is about the Peloponnesian Wars. The Peloponnese is the lower part of Greece, where Sparta is located. It’s actually a peninsula. Athens is on the mainland. The mainier mainland. Athens and Spart went at it, with other Greek city-states joining the fray.

The Athenians were led by a remarkable man named Pericles. He reminds me of Winston Churchill and George W. Bush. He was a solid wartime leader whose people turned on him once the consequences of their decision to follow him into battle became clear. People always want the omelette, and then they want the eggs back.

Pericles was a speaker, and he made some famous speeches before the Athenians. In the first, he urged them to go to war. He said something you would expect to come out of the mouth of an American Founding Father: “Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”

Well, I got called away before the 45 minutes were up. But I’m back now. I’m making diet cookies.

To get back to Pericles, he showed me something interesting about Sparta: the Spartans were crazy to put their kids through 18 years or whatever of cruel boot camp.

If you’ve seen 300, you know that the Spartans sent their male children off to suffer miserably until they were old enough to join the army. This was after killing off all the ones that looked imperfect; the Spartans were extremely pro-choice. They left weak-looking babies to die in the wilderness.

In the movie, the Spartans are incredibly macho and tough. They’re like the SAS of Greeks. No one can fight as well as they can. Three hundred of them hold the huge Persian army off for days.

In real life, the flabby, hard-drinking Athenian queens kicked the snot out of them. They defeated the Spartans, proving you don’t really need to throw your life away to be an effective soldier.

American conservatives got really sweaty and pumped after 300 came out. We put “Molon labe” all over our blogs (even though King Leonidas of Sparta didn’t say that in the movie). Maybe we should have been excited about the wedding planners, figure skaters, and airline stewards of Athens.

Want to hear something interesting about Pericles? He had the Athenians hide behind a wall during the war. He also wanted to fix it so you had to have two Athenian parents in order to be a citizen of Athens. Do you realize what this means? He wasn’t the Greek George Bush. He was the Greek Donald Trump.

Pericles, it seems, was brilliant, even though his plans didn’t always work. Thucydides was no moron, either. He understood how smart Pericles was, and he paid him this compliment: he said he led the people instead of being led by them. That’s true wisdom. Most of our politicans are followers, not leaders. Obama is the biggest sheep in the universe. Somehow a man who lived 2500 years ago knew how important it was for a leader to lead, and we don’t know it now. How can that be? How can you not know something you knew in 475 B.C.?

Leadership is a huge part of Christianity. You’re supposed to be the head, not the tail. The head doesn’t follow the tail. When your buddies are getting tattoos, using drugs, and doing yoga, you shouldn’t go along just so they’ll love you. You should set an example and do what’s right.

You’re wondering what diet cookies are.

In 2009, after a fast, I suddenly found that God had given me control over what I ate. I didn’t feel compelled to stuff myself. I lost weight. That blessing didn’t go away, but I damaged it. One night I decided to order all-you-can-eat ribs with a friend of mine, and since then, things haven’t been quite as good as they were in 2009. I guess I followed instead of leading.

Recently, God brought the self-control back. That’s great, but it comes with little challenges. One is that I tend to eat too little at breakfast. I can tell when I need more food, because I start to feel crabby, and I don’t concentrate well. Like Betty White in the Snickers commercial.

I bought a bag of Oreos the other day, and I found them very useful. When I needed food, I grabbed a couple of Oreos, and they fixed the problem. Without small, handy, calorie-filled items around, I would be likely to eat something that’s too big.

I ran out of Oreos, and I was going to get more, but then I remembered my own cookies. I make fantastic oatmeal raisin cookies. It’s not a big brag. All homemade cookies are phenomenal compared to bag cookies, as long as you don’t use vegetable oil or shortening.

Today I made a pile of oatmeal cookies, and I’ll keep them around so I don’t keel over at 3 p.m. every day. The big problem is that they may be too good. If they’re too good, it will be very hard to control my consumption, even with the help I have.

They really are good. I know they’re good, because I love them, and ordinarily I don’t like oatmeal cookies.

I guess I’m going to have to get back to work on accounting. Either that, or I’ll have no choice but to get into the differences between rolled and ground ball screws.

CNC Rider

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

C What I Have Done

More progress on the CNC front.

I’m sure I already said I ordered some acetal rod for CNC practice. If not, now you know. For less than ten bucks, Zoro Tools sent me six feet of it.

Acetal, also known as Delrin, is a very tough plastic. It feels and looks like polyethylene. It’s so tough, they make gears out of it. I used it this afternoon.

Today I had a couple of goals. One was to get my backlash correction working, so the lathe would not wander all over the place while it cut. The other was to get the initialization code fixed so the motors wouldn’t disable every time I looked away for ten seconds. I believe I accomplished both goals.

CNC is an interesting thing. I got very excited about it in 2014, because I saw that it should–SHOULD–change the world by giving ordinary citizens the power to make all sorts of things in their own homes. Guns, for example. But I may have expected too much from the technology.

There is no reason why a big outfit like Microsoft can’t come up with a program that allows relatively unskilled people to design fairly complex parts and turn them into code so computerized tools can make them from raw materials. There is no reason why a big outfit like Samsung can’t make a machine that reads the code and creates what you designed, without a lot of bugs and accidents. These things have not happened, though, because demand is not there yet.

Right now, real CNC is not plug and play. You can buy a 3D printer, which is one kind of CNC tool, and you can make stuff all day, but if you’re like 99.98% of the people who own printers, you won’t be able to make anything useful. You won’t be able to design new parts worth a damn, because CAD is hard, and even if you did, they would be printed in crude, flimsy plastic.

Recently, someone wrote an article saying 3D printing was “dying,” and he said something like, “Eventually you get tired of printing out little plastic skulls.” This is what people do; they buy printers, they download files other people wrote, and they print worthless knickknacks. You can do better, but you won’t do it on a $300 printer, and you won’t do it without acquiring some skills.

If you want a CNC machine tool, which is infinitely more useful than a printer, you will have to either lay out some serious cash or find an incredible Craigslist deal with a seller who has no idea what the tools are worth. If you can get a decent used mill for several thousand dollars, you’re doing very well. Then you have a giant mill that takes up half of your garage, and you have to learn manual machining, CAD, C, Gcode, CNC machining, and God knows what else.

You can get a CNC router, if you’re happy being unable to work in metal. I don’t see the point.

To make it work, you will have to get a ready-made CNC machine, or you will have to put a lot of stuff together. Then you have to learn how to make it run. I don’t mean making it make things. I mean you will have to learn things like how to make the motors run at the right speeds, moving in the right directions. It’s not easy. Believe me, there is no one-sheet “Quick Start” primer that will get you on your feet.

I didn’t buy a machine made for CNC. I did a conversion. I had to get two computer boards to make my lathe work, and then I had to make a cabinet for them, install a power supply, make the manufacturer’s software work with the boards, and make the software and boards work with the lathe. Then I had to make the software work with Mach3, which is probably the closest thing we have to Photoshop or Word for CNC. It helps people who aren’t programmers run CNC tools.

After all that, I had to make all of it work with Windows 10, which is a terrible operating system when it comes to connectivity and drivers.

I had to do all this, just to create a machine that functions. Making new parts with it that are more complicated than drumsticks…that’s still down the road.

The manuals for my computer boards are horrors straight from hell. The guy who wrote them is an engineer, which means he is not really a human being. They probably seem very straightforward to him. To me, they seem disorganized, vague, incomplete, and misleading. And I can’t say anything bad about him. He had a Herculean task to perform. It’s a wonder he did it as well as he did.

So anyway, home CNC has astounding potential to put manufacturing power in the hands of ordinary people, but it hasn’t come through yet. It’s at the stage where computers were when people made them from kits, using soldering irons. If you want to be a CNC hobbyist, giving up your other hobbies is a really good idea.

CNC is having a big impact on people like me, but people like me aren’t that common. It won’t really explode until an average guy can take a prefab, user-friendly, plug and play setup and start making parts in a couple of weeks. That’s probably five years off. It can be done. If the Mach3 people had as many software engineers working on it as Bill Gates has working on the next bad version of Word, it would have happened already.

It will be a while before printing your own household items will be as common as printing your own annoying family newsletters. But it will happen.

Here is the part I made today. You are probably wondering what it is. Me, too. But I made it, and I had very few problems. I wonder why I didn’t try machining acetal sooner. It’s very useful, and the finish is incredible. I used a pointy Chinese carbide tool with, essentially, no radius, and this thing is so smooth it looks like it came out of a mold.

07 09 16 CNC mini lathe Delrin doodad from successful axis test

I’m still wondering what’s up with the steps/inch settings. My x screw is supposed to do 1/25″ per turn, and the motor makes 3200 steps/revolution, so you would expect 80000 steps/inch. Measuring the lathe’s movements, I came up with 79760. Explain that. Maybe the screw is actually metric, and it only approximates an imperial pitch. Hmm…what if it’s 1mm per turn? That would give me 78740. Who knows?

The lead screw is not metric. Definitely. Probably. It’s American. It moves 1/2″ per turn, which comes out to 6400 steps/inch. But I have to use 6321. I haven’t figured that out.

I had a horrible time getting the screws right. I kept measuring the movement of the lathe, doing math, and adjusting the motors. I finally realized the lathe motors jumped every time I turned it on. This jump wasn’t recognized by the computer, so it threw everything off. The guy who makes the boards told me, “Oh, yeah, the boards do LEAP ON THEIR OWN every time they come on, and it happens all the time because I put code in the program that makes them time out and go dead.” I am paraphrasing. I had to look through the C initialization program and try to figure out which part of it meant “time out and stop,” and then I had to figure out how to rewrite it so the motors would always stay on. I succeeded at that, and things started to fall into place.

I also had issues with the backlash stuff. You can’t just tell a machine, “Add 0.005″ of backlash.” Backlash always has to be taken off the same side of the screw. You apply a correction when the lathe moves in one direction, but not the other. You have to be consistent. So I had to root through the manual and find out where to put the correction. It turns out that if you have a KFlop board, the backlash correction is only added when you move in the positive direction. Good to know.

Keeping the motors on all the time makes it impossible to locate the tool manually, turning the motor dials. I had to learn how to use the “jog” controls to move the tool into position. That was a nightmare. The z jog was like a rocket launch. I found it unusable. I wondered why anyone would ever try to use it.

I got my screws accurate to within 1 part in 500, and then I tried to run a simple program, and the lathe jammed. I had to turn it off. The tool just rammed the work, like it was mad at it. Finally, I found out the acceleration figures for the motors were too high. If you set your acceleration too high, the motors just ignore commands. Like, “Are you kidding? I’m not doing that.” So if five lines of code, which the motor likes, say, “Go left,” and five other lines it hates say, “Go right,” it just keeps going left.

It turned out I had the Mach3 acceleration figures so high, they were roughly comparable to the acceleration of a rifle bullet leaving the chamber. This is why I had jog problems. And guess what? You have to put acceleration figures in Mach3 and also in the software that comes with the board. So pitfalls abound.

Anyway, I made this white thing, and I’m really happy with it.

Now that I know the lathe will function, I can pay for a Mach3 license and get the full version of the software, and I can think about ordering a z axis ball screw. I also have to get to work on the spindle encoder thing. I’ll need to buy hook spanner wrenches. You can never have enough tools.

CNC is great, but if you want to get into it at your house, you will still have to play Robert Goddard, even though CNC is over 50 years old. If you decide to do it, go with a mill. Don’t even think about a lathe, because you will be ALONE. Even a router will be easier. A mill is the best CNC tool, though, so that’s what you should get.

I’ll bet no one read this far. I don’t care. I love my shiny new part.

Hello Again, Mr. Chips

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

I Will Beat This Thing if it Kills Me

I have been trying to rehabilitate my wayward CNC lathe. I built it in 2014, and for some reason, I quit working on it. I don’t recall the final straw, but I know that I was frustrated with the motor setup, and I was disturbed to learn that the screws that move the carriage (one of which cost a ton of money) were not adequate for good machining.

I started working on it last week, and I learned a few things.

First off, the screws aren’t that bad. The screw on the x axis (toward and away from the operator) is accurate to within a thousandth or so, which is about as good as I will ever need it to be. The other screw (z, or left and right) can be made accurate to within a couple of thousandths, which will do for 98% of hobby projects. I would be better of with ball screws, which have no significant backlash, but I don’t need them at this stage. Better to put my effort into making the motors and programs work.

Second thing: ball screws are getting cheaper and easier to find. I should be able to replace the z screw for under a hundred bucks, and the x screw, if it needs to be replaced at all, will be less.

Third thing: you don’t need a compound rest on a CNC lathe. A compound rest, for those of you who haven’t stopped reading already, is a second slide on top of the main carriage slide. The main slide, or cross slide, moves the tool toward you and away from you. The compound sits on it, and it can be swiveled, so it can move the tool in all sorts of directions in the horizontal plane.

A compound is very useful in manual machining, but with CNC, it’s a problem, unless it’s connected to a computer. The computer needs to control all movement and know where everything is, and that doesn’t happen with a compound that isn’t wired up. You have to leave it in one position all the time, so the computer knows where it is. That means it takes up space for no reason, and because compound rests are inherently wobbly, it adds error.

I took mine off and replaced it with a nice aluminum block. I was really happy with the block. It’s probably the first thing I’ve ever machined successfully, in one try, with no errors.

07 03 16 CNC mini lathe with new cross slide mount

Now if I can just get the lathe to work.

The little flat part that projects in front of the tool post is probably not necessary, but I left it there in case I found a need to mount additional stuff. You never know.

Fourth thing: if you use a KFlop controller, like mine, you will not be able to do threading without two spindle inputs. Mach3, the program just about everyone uses, will let you observe your spindle’s movements with a single sensor that, obviously, sends a signal once every rotation. The KFlop isn’t having that, so I have to rig up a two-sensor thing.

The mini-lathe came with variable speed and a tachometer, so it has a spindle sensor already. There is a disk around the spindle at one end, and there is a hole in the disk. The disk runs through a caliper-looking thing which contains an optical sensor. Every time the hole goes through, the sensor sends a signal to the tachometer, and the lathe tells me how fast it’s going.

The CNC plans I bought say to buy a new sensor and install it on the spindle. The sensor is inductive. That must mean it has a coil in it. Anyway, you mount a small flat piece of metal on the spindle, and every time it passes the new sensor, it makes current run through the sensor, telling the controller what the spindle is doing. When I realized the lathe already had a sensor, I decided to try to hack into it and connect it to the KFlop. That’s when I found out it won’t work. Now I have to put a second disk on the spindle with two cheap optical sensors at 90 degrees to each other.

I still can’t get the software to work right. That’s largely because I made a lathe and not a mill. You have to be stupid to make a lathe, because no one does it. Because there are so few hobby CNC lathes, there are very few people who can help you with problems. Also, the people who make the KFlop do not provide computer code for two-axis machines, so you may have to learn to alter C programs to work in two dimensions.


Nonetheless, things are moving right along.

I have one problem which is strictly physical, i.e., not in software. I crashed the lathe a long time ago, and now it tends to sputter. I changed the brushes on the motor, and it didn’t help. The old brushes were fine. I am now wondering if I damaged the contacts on the switch that changes the lathe from forward to reverse motion. Anyway, it’s one more thing to fix.

I bought a long piece of Delrin rod from Zoro Tools. I figured it would be more forgiving than aluminum when the lathe crashed. We’ll see. And Delrin is very useful stuff.

In other news, I am learning a lot about dementia. This week I realized that dementia is like dissection. It shows you what’s under people’s skin. It tells you what’s inside them.

My dad keeps having problems with his prescriptions, which I dole out for him, putting everything in a pill organizer. His doctor is supposed to keep them flowing to him by mail, by keeping his refills up to date. The supplier is supposed to send new pills automatically. Over and over, they screw up. I call the supplier, and they say the doctor didn’t update the prescription. I call the doctor, and they tell me to talk to the supplier. No one ever says the obvious thing, which is, “We are incompetent. Sorry. We’ll fix it.”

He ran out of one of his medications, and there was turmoil for about half an hour.

He can’t keep the names of the companies that supply his drugs straight. He can’t remember who sends the prescriptions. He became very angry and agitated, and he kept asking me the same things over and over. I was very calm about it; this is a problem that literally takes 30 seconds to fix. You make a note to call the doctor and the prescription people, and you go on with life. He kept telling me he couldn’t have this chaos in his life, and he was clearly upset that I wasn’t upset.

I had a sudden realization: he enjoys being angry and upset. It brings him pleasure. He doesn’t like to see it end. In the instant I saw that, a lot of things from my childhood started to make sense.

Most people don’t like being upset. When they get upset, they look for solutions to put an end to it. My dad never did that. When he got angry, he looked for ways to prolong it and spread it to other people. He used to get mad at people he couldn’t rattle. He thought there was something wrong with them. He had an employee he criticized for being unflappable; he found the man extremely frustrating, just because he didn’t burst into tears or share in the hysteria. I didn’t understand that. Now I do.

My house was always full of stress and yelling. When we would ask him to calm down, he always said, “Don’t tell me to calm down!” Now I see why he did that. He was enjoying himself.

You couldn’t tell him you were sorry and have an end to the problem. Even if you fixed the problem on the spot, he kept going. He didn’t stop until he got tired, and that could take hours. Sometimes he would run down and stop, and then it would start up again later. Sometimes he resumed days afterward.

I can’t believe I never saw this before.

It shows how harmful bad habits are to older people. When you’re 50 and you still have it together, you can change. When you become demented, forget it. People can’t help you with good advice, because you can’t receive it. All they can do is try to limit your suffering. And theirs. By spending less time with you.

Whatever you’re hiding from your kids today will eventually be so obvious it might as well be on a billboard.

Awareness of the problems my parents and grandparents have or had is not useless. It can’t help them, but it can help me. These things are caused or exacerbated by spirits, and those spirits leave the dead and prey on their descendants. As is so often the case, I am presented with a situation in which I can be blessed through others, yet I can’t bless them in return.

My dad’s potential to change and enjoy life is limited, and my sister is a lost cause. I don’t even know if she’s alive. The strange thing is that I’m not agitated about it. Many Christians have the idea that you’re never supposed to stop weeping and worrying over people; that’s a huge lie. We are supposed to be blessed, and you can’t be blessed if your life consists of perpetual handwringing over people who choose, habitually and over a course of decades, to harm themselves.

The Holy Spirit killed Ananias and Sapphira; people forget that. Peter spoke curses to them, and they died on the spot. He didn’t weep. He didn’t beg them to change. I’m sure he wasn’t happy about what happened to them, but the Holy Spirit tells us which battles to fight and which to drop, and he apparently chose not to have Peter wear himself out on Ananias and Sapphira.

We don’t know what people did for them in the time leading up to their deaths. They may have fasted and prayed for them every day for months.

I pray for my dad every day. I do what I can in the supernatural, and I make his life easy. That’s plenty of effort; I’m doing what I’m supposed to. Results can’t be guaranteed; I am not responsible for them. I am content.

I have more peace now that I understand what’s going on. That’s good. It’s bad when other people can’t be blessed, but I’ll take my blessings just the same.