Beverly Throatless Shear

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Twenty years ago, when I was first starting out as a metal sculptor, I was advised by my art teacher that if I made only one purchase I should get a Beverly Shear. It remains the best advice I’ve ever received.

Sounding like a 1940′s B movie star, this wonderful tool has been the center of my studio ever since. It lets me cut metal and other materials into complex shapes without misshaping the metal and leaving a clean edge that needs only light finishing. I use it not only for my sculpture work, where I cut parts out of salvaged sheet metal without harming the patina, but also to cut plastic, rubber, old vinyl records, and even cutting corrugated roofing diagonally and along the ridge.

Though I have used the larger models that the company offers, I find that the B1 is the perfect size for almost any task, and does a great job of cutting out small and delicate parts. It is rated to cut 14 gauge steel (18 gauge stainless) and does so with minimal effort with its geared rack and pinion mechanism. There are imitations that go for less money, but I wouldn’t trade my Beverly for anything.

-- Scott Randolph  

Beverly Bench Shear B-1
$536
Available from Otto Frei

Manufactured by Beverly



Proxxon Mini Saws

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For my work building models and automata, I own two Proxxon miniature power tools, and they are both amazing. Not amazing for their size; just plain amazing.

The Proxxon Miter Saw (table area 9″ x 9″; weight 12 lb) has been a valuable addition to my tool collection, and it would also be ideal for anyone who has limited space in his/her work area. This miter saw is great for cutting 90-degree and 45-degree cuts in a variety of materials. There are detents every 15 degrees for cutting a range of angles. The saw has a really clever integrated clamp to hold the material and ensure that each cut stays on the mark. There’s also a built-in stop that helps me when I want to cut a bunch of pieces to the same length. Nice.

Micro-Mark sells a lesser miter saw that is slightly cheaper ($140), but it only takes cut-off wheels, not blades, so its range of functionality isn’t as broad as the Proxxon’s. The Micro-Mark allows for angled cuts, but doesn’t have the 15-degree latching detents of the Proxxon.

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A full-size miter saw is a powerful machine. A small, loose cut-off piece can get swept up by the blade into the blade guard housing. I know; it happened to me. This can be both costly and dangerous. It’s not an experience I ever want to repeat. The Proxxon is more appropriately scaled for cutting small pieces, so this is less likely to happen. Compared to free-hand cutting with a cut-off wheel mounted in a Dremel tool, the Proxxon is safer and produces cleaner, more accurate cuts.

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These miniaturized tools are clearly not toys. The Mini Table Saw (overall size 11 13/16″ x 10 5/16″ x 6 43/64″ w/o extension wing; weight 11.5 lb) can make a clean cut in 3/4″ hardwood, and it’s barely bigger than a toaster. Cutting small very parts on a full-size table saw requires that you spend a good deal of time constructing jigs and zero-clearance inserts in order to make the cuts safely. Unlike another miniature table saw I own, there a ton of useful accessories available for the Proxxon — some that are simply not available for full-size machines. The Proxxon’s variable-speed control also sets this saw apart from lesser miniature tables saws, allowing me to adjust the speed depending on the blade in use and the material being cut. This can make the difference between clean, smooth cuts and ruined materials.

The truly handy thing about owning the miter saw and the table saw is that they use the same blades, and a surprisingly wide variety at that. I can get blades for slitting, cutting wood and cutting metals, and they’re all interchangeable between the two tools. Consider, for example, the diamond-coated blade, which allows me to cut things as hard as tile and stone. I’ve found the miter saw mounted with an abrasive blade for non-ferrous metals to be a great way to cut brass rod and bars to length.

-- Dug North  

Proxxon 37160 KGS 80 MICRO Chop Saw
$200

Available from Amazon

Proxxon 37070 FKS/E Table Saw
$360

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Proxxon



80/20

My work includes design and fabrication for an antenna measurement systems company. For years we had used a modular building product that was very expensive and not adequately flexible. It was also limiting in its lack of accessories. Worse still was its 6-8 week lead time for parts orders. I started looking and discovered 80/20, which not only eliminated all of the negative aspects of the old product, but even provided many new benefits. It isn’t cheap, but it is a great value. We all know that for the most part, you really do get what you pay for. Cheap products usually aren’t good, and good products usually aren’t cheap.

Firstly, its modular design is fantastic. It allows prototyping of fixtures, stands, bases and many other items we need to build for in-house use or bring to market very quickly. The number of accessories available is mind boggling. They have wheels, handles, latches, panels, leveling feet, linear slides, hinges and many more components. You can build some pretty slick items and it all just bolts together with a few simple hand tools. The finished product looks very professional, as all of the individual components are designed to work together.

All components are pre-finished. Our in-house fabricated and/or machined assemblies require outside processing (anodizing, cadmium plating, painting or powder coating), which means additional time and cost. With the 80/20, all structural extrusions and components already come painted, powder coated or anodized — simply assemble and ship.

While 80/20 certainly will find more applications in an industrial environment, where the cost is also offset by the utility, the possibilities for home use are limited only by your imagination. You could build things such as a work bench, bicycle storage system, cabinets, stands or many other home items that will likely last a lifetime.

As with anything, 80/20 has its limitations but they are far outweighed by its capabilities. I have discovered zero fault with this product. Many of our products require very large, product-specific and engineered weldments and machined assemblies. The 80/20 will never fulfill all of our needs, but for the smaller systems we frequently design and build this “Industrial Erector Set” is superb.

-- Chris Payne  

80/20 Modular Solutions

Available from 80/20 Inc.

Also from eBay



Kinco Ski Gloves

Look on the hands of the person wrangling chairs or patrolling at your local ski hill. You’ll probably see an old-school insulated leather glove made by workwear supplier Kinco. Now, there are slightly warmer and more dexterous technical gloves out there made specifically for skiing, but would you change your oil or weld with $100 Hestra Army gloves? I haven’t found a more durable, warm, or better value work glove than Kinco’s for the cold and snow.

The pair I have so far has lasted through four years of welding, skiing, snow shoveling and carpentry. They’ve been drenched in motor oil, covered in antifreeze, and nearly frozen solid in an ice storm while I was skiing. My hands have stayed happy.

The most care they require is a coat or two of Sno-Seal every season. Unlike synthetic gloves, they aren’t fazed by heat and flame. I’ve found that the Kinco 901 gloves paired with some cheap silk liners is enough to keep my hands warm until it gets below 5F or so.

–Jon Braun

I’ve never used their ski gloves, but Kinco insulated pigskin gloves with the knit cuff are staples at our farm. Pigskin is durable and most importantly dries soft after getting wet, whereas cowhide gloves can become useless after getting wet as they dry stiff. The knit cuffs are important if you work with chainsaws or hay, etc., as they keep debris from getting in and permanently clogging the fingers of the glove.

We go through a few pairs a year, but that’s because we use them hard. I often get them at Gempler’s for about 15 bucks. The uninsulated styles are good for working in warm weather, but often I use the insulated ones even in summer as they damp vibrations from power tools pretty well. They are widely available elsewhere but often stores only stock the large size which are too big for my hands. Gempler’s was a subject of Cool Tools a long while back and is a great source for workwear and general outdoor/light industrial tools and supplies.

–Rufus

 

Kinco 901 Ski Gloves
$28

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kinco



Frame Saver

Frame Saver is an aerosol that coats the inside of a steel bicycle frame to prevent rust. Carbon fiber and aluminum frames comprise most of the bicycle market share these days — have for a while — but many cyclists still prefer the ride quality of steel frames. Also, the fixed-gear trend has granted a second life to thousands of ’80s-era steel bikes over the past few years.

While the paint on the exterior of the bicycle frame’s tubes prevents rust, there’s no rust-protection on the inside unless Frame Saver, or something similar (such as Boeshield T-9), has been applied. It’s arguable that if you take good care of your bike, pull the seatpost and let the bicycle dry upside down after rain rides, rust won’t be a problem, but using Frame Saver is inexpensive insurance for what can be a costly investment. I’ve applied it and found it solidly in place, with no trace of rust, many years later.

The easiest route is to apply Frame Saver (or have your local shop do it) before your bike is initially built up. A can generally coats two frames, and it can extend the life of your frame/fork indefinitely. If you’re going to use it on a bike that’s already built, it’s best to strip the bike completely before applying; the bottom bracket and headset regions are particularly vulnerable to moisture.

Peter Weigle, the manufacturer, is a highly regarded framebuilder and has posted some beautiful photos of his handmade bikes on Flickr.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

JP Weigle’s Frame Saver
$11
Available from Tree Fort Bikes

Manufactured by JP Weigle

Previously available from Amazon



Pyramex Onix Plus Reader

The outer lens of these safety glasses flips down for welding, and when you’re done, you simply flip them up. Nothing special. However, I’ve been wearing the previously-reviewed Mag-Safe safety glasses for years, and the Onix Plus is the only flip-up pair I’ve found that also has a reader’s bifocal lens. The inside lens is available in two magnifying strengths (+1.5, +2.5), and outer lens in two different IR shades (3.0, 5.0). Makes it much easier for me to see while welding. Preferable to spending an arm and a leg for prescription safety glasses. Quicker than switching between protective eyewear and reading specs.

-- Byron Hill  

Pyramex Onix Plus Reader
$12
Available from Enviro Safety Products

Manufactured by Pyramex



Mag-Safe Safety Glasses

After I lost a pair of very nice sunglasses that slipped off my head during some overzealous dancing, I vowed for my next pair to put function before form. The benefit of these photochromic safety glasses is not only their low relatively-low cost and snug fit, but also their versatility. They keep off glare when I’m driving, protect me from wind when I’m biking — day or night — and shield my eyes when I go to the machine shop to work on projects. The lenses run almost perfectly clear to a nice, dark tint in the sun, with nearly 100 percent UVA/B protection. They have an ANSI Z87.1+ rating, which means they’re shatter-proof even when struck by a 1/4-inch steel ball at 150 feet/second. The lenses are polycarbonate, so a significant scrape against sand, ground, etc. would probably scratch them. In the six months I’ve been using them, I’ve dropped them lightly a couple times and they’re still pretty much like-new.

Over the summer, I worked in a machine shop lathing, sawing, drilling, tapping metal and wood twice a week for 3-4 hours and a couple weekends straight through until Burning Man. Unlike the cheap, standard shop glasses which I’d constantly put on and remove and occasionally forget to put back on, these are so comfortable I rarely take them off. It’s important to note they do not seal all the way around your face the way some safety goggles do — i.e. the ones with flexible rubber sides that press up against the skin. On the one hand, that’s why these are much more comfortable, but then again, that makes these potentially unsuitable for tasks where full coverage is recommended. For my usage, though, which is primarily partial-coverage tasks, they’re great. Definitely one of the most functional things I own, and considering they’re safety glasses, they look pretty good.

-- Eric Nguyen  

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Mag-Safe Safety Glasses
$45

Available from Amazon



TechShop

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Wouldn’t it be great to have a full machine shop at your disposal, with dozens of industrial tools also at your disposal, and all you have to do is contribute to the upkeep? TechShop is just that — a membership-based fabrication and invention shop. I’ve been a member since before TechShop really even started, back when it was just some guys passing out flyers trying to gauge interest. For $100 a month, members can use any tool in the shop on which they’ve received training. MUCH cheaper than buying your own gear. The list of equipment is pretty extensive, too, and new items are arriving frequently (like a new hot-wire foam cutter).

I’ve spent the most time with the laser cutter and the plasma cutter, and a bit of time on the mill and lathes. The laser cutters are the best “deal” since even a novice can start building really intricate objects out of plastics quite rapidly, and the fact that the laser cutters simply “print” with a laser beam makes them the most approachable for people who want to work off-line and who come in just to cut materials. The plasma cutter is a bit more picky, and requires a jump up to a ‘real’ CNC computer, which is not difficult and is just as rewarding. One of the first things I did at TechShop was to build a gib key puller for a particularly obstinate key on the flywheel of a 50+ year old diesel engine I’m restoring. The robotic plasma cutter made short work of cutting what would have been otherwise a difficult piece, and I learned basic CNC methods in the process. I’ve since progressed to fairly advanced CNC operation skills, which have been useful in more intricate object construction. I’ve used the lathe to finish off some custom valves, the laser cutter for cutting gasket material and making signs, and I’m itching to try the 3D material printer.

TechShop offers classes on their equipment, as well as general classes on various methods and skills. The safety classes are typically very good, focused on safety and basic operation of the equipment. Classes are required for any equipment as a ‘basic’ instruction set, though some equipment has advanced classes for better technique and more complex jobs. Classes typically cost between $20 and $30 dollars for the basic safety class, but that’s still a bargain. This is just what I’ve been looking for, since most machine shop instruction I’ve seen has been terribly expensive, and has been geared for “lowest common denominator” instructions, which are typically agonizingly boring. The TechShop classes are taught for safety and rapid understanding to try to bring members to the point where they can start producing their own objects as quickly as possible. There is still going to be some trial and error, but the feedback loop is very short and it doesn’t take long before you’re comfortable and confident on the equipment. This is industrial arts instruction for people with a high level of clue.

Motorcycle customizers, automotive gearheads, robot war fanatics, electronics fabricators, modelmakers, metal benders, burning man artists, startup companies, mechanical engineering students: I’ve met all of these at TechShop, and I’m sure quite a few others that defy categorization. If you have any interest in making things, or modifying things, then TechShop is for you. Having spent years and a lot of dollars in outfitting my own shop, I can say that the TechShop concept beats anything I could possibly hope to have done on my own with the added benefit of the people that one meets at a shared space like TechShop.

While the tools and physical resources of TechShop are excellent, there is a hidden benefit to participating: the other members. The breadth of skills of the members and projects underway is perhaps the most impressive and fascinating part of TechShop. At any one time, there are a half-dozen people working on fantastic and innovative things, either as hobby projects or as budding startups who have found an inexpensive way to bootstrap themselves into prototyping a better mousetrap. Here’s a word to the wise for smart venture capital folks: find a hobby that requires TechShop and spend some quality time in the building doing your project. You’ll get amazing things done on your own project, and get to review a few hundred of the most clever projects happening as well as meet the working engineers that are often so difficult to find otherwise.

The downside to TechShop is that it is still only in Menlo Park, California. Later this summer, additional locations are scheduled to open up with the expansion. [EDIT: Several other locations are now open.] Other downsides: there are often waits for the laser cutters, since those are the most popular items in the shop. And, of course, if you are a “top-secret” inventor, you won’t find much privacy — plan on people being very interested in your project and asking lots of questions. There are also almost no places to store materials between visits — pretty much everything needs to go home with you.

I typically am at TechShop one or two evenings a week when I’m in the Bay Area, but my work schedule has made that less frequent than I’d like (I commute between PDX and SFO for work). The good news is that with the planned expansion one of the nine prospective cities is in my home town of Portland, OR. This will be welcome, as most of my projects involve objects that don’t fit well into carry-on luggage.

-- John Todd  

TechShop
$125 – Unlimited Monthly Access
$1400 – Unlimited Annual Access

Classes
$30+

[Note: Prices vary by location. The rates above are for the original, Menlo Park CA location. Student memberships are also available.]

Sample Excerpts:
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4′ x 8′ CNC Metal Plasma Cutter

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Electronics Laboratory

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Band Saws & Presses




IRWIN Unibit Drill Bit

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I’ve been easing into more and more metal work over the last year and half (propane art, collapsible fire fans and fire hula hoops a la Burning Man), so I drill a lot of multi-size holes in aluminum tubing. This is by far the best bit I’ve found for drilling through such thin materials. To get precise placement and a clean hole, normally I’d drill a small pilot hole, then run a larger drill bit in that hole to get the size and placement right. With this bit, I do not need to create a pilot hole (though, a center punch can help). I simply drill until I get to the right size (1/4″ and 1/2″ mostly). Because the bit has a single flute (cutting edge), it makes very clean holes. It’s also very accurate: the bit is very stiff, so it wanders less when starting a hole. Since I don’t need to change drill bits in my drill press to successively drill larger holes or change the jig I’m using to hold the part, it’s become a real time saver.

-- Sean Rutledge  

IRWIN Unibit
$18 (3/6″ – 1/4″)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by IRWIN



Simichrome Metal Polish

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I’ve been using this cream for a couple of years to get a mirror polish on all the vintage bicycles I collect. Before discovering it on a listserv about classic bikes, I tried various buffing and polishing compounds (usually automotive) and Nev’r Dull, which worked fine but requires a lot of effort. Simichrome seems to work magically, with very little elbow grease needed to dissolve/remove surface stains and oxidation (the main ingredient is aluminum oxide). The results are astounding. I’ve used it primarily on aluminum, and a few chrome pieces. In my experience it works best on aluminum. Recently, I revived a set of oxidized aluminum cranks in under an hour all told — sanding and steel wool to remove scratches and then less than 10 minutes (and minimal effort) polishing with the Simichrome. For aluminum parts that don’t need scratches sanded out it takes about 30 seconds to watch a small section go from dull, oxidized metal to mirror finish (that’s not hyperbole). Of course it depends a bit on the finish of the underlying metal, how big and complicated the part is and so on. I’ve tested it on brass, and though it wasn’t as easy on that as it was the aluminum, Simichrome was still much quicker than anything I’d used before (Turtle Wax, buffing compound, Ajax, steel wool).

-- Galen Pewtherer  

Simichrome
$10
Manufactured by Happich