Saul Griffith, Inventor


Cool Tools Show 145: Saul Griffith

Our guest this week is Saul Griffith. Saul is a compulsive user of tools, he works across disciplines with a focus of making tools and technologies that help us solve climate change. Consequently, he ends up doing thermodynamics, precision machine design, and robotics on a daily basis.

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Show notes:

Monarch Toolroom Lathe
“The first tool on my list is a Monarch tool room lathe, which we have down at the lab, my office. We joke around at our office that humans used to have spirit animals, but now we should have spirit tools. As we were assigning spirit tools I spoke out quickly to get the lathe … It’s about 4,000lbs of precision tool. …It’s extremely accurate, and honestly I just find excuses to use the lathe. I love this tool that much. I find my own zen moment, the perfectly turned set of chips excites me to be honest. The lathe is just where I find my most inner peace. It’s probably the F150 of tool room lathes. It’s strong and versatile, and it lasts forever. As long as you lubricate it and treat it nice, it’s absolutely a workhorse, but still very precise. There’s definitely an organized market in professional tools for this type of tool. I think we paid about $20,000 for this lathe including all the tooling. It’s a 3,000 block of cast iron that has some sort of streamliner, industrial design aesthetic, and then this magnificent deep eggshell green color, so it invokes the best of, and the sexiness of the Vespa scooter, and the speed of a 1930’s cross country train.”

FabLight Laser Cutter
“Shameless plug, so I helped the guys at 3D FabLight design that machine and start the company. I happen to think that a laser cutter is the most versatile and useful of any CNC machine you can have. 3D printers are fun, but laser cutters just have this enormous variety of materials that you can use, and they can be very fast, and we’ve owned a lot, but the reason I like the 3D FabLight is it has a 4th axis, so not only can you cut two dimensional sheets of material, you can also cut tubes. Honestly I just think all laser cutters are on my list of favorite tools. I just happened to choose this one because we’re currently making them and they’re great. … Currently I’m on a kick, I use the 3D FabLight for my hobby, which is making all manner of strange bicycles. So we do all the coping, and all the tubes, and it’s just incredibly satisfying ’cause lasers are so precise to cut a full tube set and a couple pieces of flat metal for a bicycle, and it’s cool to have them all going to the jig with perfect tolerances the first time. I’m really loving that process.”

Cyclus Tools
Cyclus Tools Spoke Cutter
“One of the things I wrote down was the cyclist’s tools spokes cutter. I love bicycles, as you’ve already heard on this show … I saw the circus when I was a child, was a clown riding a bicycle with two eccentrically spoked wheels, meaning the hub of the wheel was not in the center of the wheel, so that when you rode it, the clown would sort of go up and down, and bounce up and down on this thing. So to do that you need to cut every single spoke on the wheel to a different length, and it was the excuse of really, really wanting to do that, that I found the most obscure and bespoke of the bicycle tools, which is this amazing little machine. You feed it fresh, long spokes, you set the length of the spoke that you want, and then you turn a crank, and it magically, not only cuts it to the right length, but puts the perfect thread on the end of every spoke. Then we wrote some software, I think it was in Partner and MET lab, to say, ‘How much centricity do you want on the wheel? What type of hub do you have? What type of wheel do you have?’ And It would give you the lengths of all the 36 different spokes to your eccentric wheel. This machine, it really is representative of all, I have a complete list of bike tools, ’cause I just think, some people collect vintage cars, I kind of treat bicycles the same way, that’s really my passion and my hobby, so I have a really nice set of one of every bicycle tool. This one is the most obscure, and the most fun, because you just turn the crank and has this satisfying mechanical feel, and you can feel it carving the tiny, little, precise thread into the spoke as you turn the crank and it just magically produces these spokes. I love that tool.”

Sailrite Edge Hotknife
“So, I do a lot of work on soft goods, meaning things made out of fabrics. We make soft robots, we’ve made a lot of kites in my life. When you’re working with synthetic fabrics, specifically, you’ll want to cut the fabric with a hotknife, not just a sharp knife, because it then seals all the little plastic fibers where they get cut so that they don’t fray. … A hotknife literally is just a hot knife, so it’s a resistively heated knife, it has nice ergonomics, and if you’re cutting nylon, like backpack materials, or if you’re cutting synthetic rope, or if you’re cutting spinnaker fabrics, or kite fabrics this is just the way to do it. It cuts, it seals, and it does absolutely nothing else! But it’s great. I think for $100- $200 you can get a good hotknife.”

Kuretake Picture Letter Gansai Tanbi
“I really love drawing, and I think drawing and writing are really integral to the creative process. I also have children who always need occupying and I’d like to have them not occupied with iPads always, so I’ve taken to carrying a complete drawing and watercolor set with me everywhere. The particular watercolors that I found that is a sort of obscure Japanese brand, called Kuretake, and they just have a great set of colors. You can use a little bit of water and they go on like a tempura paint, which is really nice if you want a really thick, opaque paint, but you can also water them down a lot and get a really lovely, light-flowing watercolor feel to them.”

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