Tag Archive for 'tools'

Lieutenant Brenske’s Marsch-Zirkel

In the days before GPS, Google Maps and Waze, people used maps; and to figure how long it would take to get from A to B on a map, you could make excellent use of a Marsch-Zirkel, or march compasses… like the lovely device described in this new article on my History of Computing exhibition.

Lieutenant Brenske's Marsch-Zirkel

Dating back to the late 19th century, this ingenious little tool helps you figure the distance and the time to cover it – with infantry or cavalry.

Take a look!

Russian Roulette!

Clearly marking tool and instrument controls is always a good idea, but it becomes vital where safety is at stake. And if there is one control where safety is definitely at stake, it is the safety catch!

Like this one, on a rechargeable jig saw from Taiwan:

Jigsaw with unmarked safety lock

See the switch clearly marked “Safety Lock”? Very informative… but there is not a hint as to which position is the locked one. There is a picture that may try to indicate this, but it is quite ambiguous.

So – this is really a weird implementation of Russian Roulette. But hey, at least it’s rechargeable…

Longer is better!

So here is a wonderfully useful tool from Shachihata: the Artline 710 Long Nib Marker.

Long Nib Marker

What’s the big deal, you ask? Not if you’re a handyman, you don’t!

This funky looking tool is designed to fill a very specific need: marking through deep holes, as when you have to drill holes in the wall to hang some bulky object. Without this tool, you must bend over backwards to find a way to do this, for instance by trying to scractch the wall with a nail inserted through the object, while trying to keep it level. With this marker, this frustrating challenge becomes a piece of cake.

Long Nib Marker

Good idea, Shachihata!

Stupid tape measure!

Here are two retractable tape measures. The one on the left is a classic by Stanley, the other, made by Panyi,  clearly a cheaper clone. Looks the same, works the same… except for one small difference.

Notice the difference?

Tape measures by Stanley and Panyi

This type of tape measure has a stated offset printed on it, equal to the width of its metal case, to allow taking inner measurements. In the Stanley unit, the number is +50 mm, a clean round number that’s easy to add to the number you read on the tape. I also have a Stanley tape of different design that uses +60 mm… again, a nice round number.

But the cheap knock-off uses +55 mm – far less easy to rapidly add in your head. Couldn’t the manufacturer bother to add or subtract 5 mm to the case size?…

Bad, bad designer!

A vestigial organ in a power tool

We all know about vestigial organs in living creatures, such as the useless vermiform appendix that gives many people a bad time. These were useful in earlier releases of our body plan, but are now just along for the ride.

So here is a sighting of a similarly useless historical remnant in a Bosch power drill.

Bosch power drill

I refer to the rubber part affixed to the power cord near the drill’s grip. This well-designed part was very handy in the drills of our youth…

Vestigial porgan on a power drill cordThe intent was to keep the chuck key from getting lost, of course… you could stick it into the hole and the rubber flaps would keep it in place when it wasn’t being used to tighten the chuck. These keys were all too easy to misplace, so this was an excellent solution – as the vermiform appendix used to be when we were all eating leaves before we became humans and learned about chocolate and other delights.

The thing is, my drill came with the now common keyless chuck… so the key holder is totally unnecessary. At least it isn’t prone to inflammation…

All staplers are not created equal!

Continuing the theme of using the right tool for the job, here’s my take on a tool that is everywhere: the trusty old stapler.

Most everyone uses the usual kind if stapler, either the small size 10 or the regular standard office model. The problem is, neither of these is any good for more than a few pages. Yet they are readily available and people use them, accepting the frequent frustration of misaligned, crooked or ineffective fastening for thicker jobs.

My recommendation: go and buy the two following units, which do a far better job on midsized print jobs. The first is a plier-stapler, a replacement for the standard office model. It uses the same staples, but its grip is far better, its alignment is perfect, and applying the required pressure for a perfect fastening is natural and effortless. No office or home should be without one of these.

Plier Stapler

The second may not be needed in every home, but if you create serious documents you should get one: a heavy duty stapler, one designed to grab – in the case of the one in the photo – 75 pages of paper with ease. Be sure to try before you buy, though – I’ve seen many poorly designed models that were almost useless. But a good make – I’m very happy with my Max model HD-3D, for one – will slice through those fat printouts and photocopy stacks like butter. That’s what you need!

Heavy duty stapler model Max HD-3D

Vanquishing those pesky Torx screws

We live in an age of throw away technology, and for me, the silver lining of this has always been to take old products apart before trashing them. It’s fun, and it’s instructive to see how computers, home electronics, even the occasional appliance are built inside. And of course, you may bring to light gems like the 10-platter stack from inside a 1980’s PC hard drive, shown below.

Platters from a 1980's hard drive

The problem is, to get at this you need to open the drive up, and these are closed tight with scary “warranty void if removed” stickers (not a problem) and a dozen screws like the one above, right, that never have a normal Phillips head for which a normal person will have a normal screwdriver around! The use of more esoteric screws like this Torx screw makes dismantling delicate electronics a problem. What is needed, of course, is a specialty driver, but who has those?

Precision multi-driver setSo, I kept accumulating old hard drives from long gone computers… intending one day to take a power drill to their pesky screws, but never getting around to it… until one day I got fed up and solved the problem once and for all.

I went and bought a whole set of non-standard driver bits – not only Torx, but many other weird shapes, thirty bits in all. Not something I’d use daily, but it’s good to know I will never again be stumped by a stupid screw.

And of course, I took to my pile of old drives and had a field day taking them apart!

Dismantled Hard Drive

Torx screwdriver

Tools 4: The right tool for the job

A major cause of accidents and frustration is trying to use the wrong tool for the job.

Professionals usually know, and have available, the right tool. Amateurs and beginners may be blissfully unaware of it. When I was just starting into homebrew electronics in my teens, I actually used to drill holes in metal with a hammer and nail! I soon discovered the hand drill, but for the larger holes required for mounting tube sockets, panel meters, and such I had to drill a circle of small holes, then use a file to painstakingly smooth out the jagged contour this left. This is definitely the wrong tool…

I became aware of the right tools after maybe a year of slaving over those holes. First came a chassis hole punch, where you’d drill a hole as thick as your finger, and use it for the screw that connects the punch’s two parts across the metal; tighten the screw and the punch eats the metal like butter. Making the finger-thick hole was still a matter of drilling and filing, until I discovered the Reamer, a sharp tool that widens the initial hole in seconds.

Chassis punch set

Lastly, I found the de-burrer – a tool for removing the sharp metal burrs that might remain around your hole. My trusty metal files got a well deserved rest, and I could focus my time on designing better electronic circuits… and enjoying their realization in hardware much more.

Reamer and deburrer

Whatever work you do, if it’s hard and frustrating, if you’re not enjoying it, you may be using the wrong tool for the job.

Tools 3: How to test a tool?

Another thing worth knowing is how to test a tool before you buy it.Claw Hammer testing

Different tools have very different methods… for example, I was saved from losing a lot of money because I knew how to test a Curta mechanical calculator before buying it (basically you start with all zeros, subtract a 1, then add it back. The readout should be all nines then all zeros again. This tests much of the inside gearing in two seconds).

Testing a hand tool can be even simpler. When I started into DIY I had this manual that had a section on hammers, including the paragraph shown at right. I used this test to select a claw hammer, ending up with a Stanley Hercules that has served me well through countless projects, and as you can see below it passes the test well. And if you think this is not very important, I can tell you that this hammer can drive nails right into anything without slipping or bending them, as a low quality tool often would; you supply the momentum, the hammer takes care of convincing the nail it had better go straight in. A real pleasure to use!

Stanley Hercules claw hammer

Tools 2: Choosing your supplier

So, if quality is critical, how do we find the best tools?

One simple method is to go for the best makers; the ones the pros swear by. In my case I did that by interrogating my machine shop teacher in university, a master craftsman with decades of experience. Basically it went like this:

Nicholson File

Me: what is the best make of hand files?
Master: why do you want to know? These are not for a hobbyist; they’d be too expensive for you anyway.
Me: Oh, I’m just curious.
Master: you aren’t going to buy them, Right?
Me: Perish the thought! I only want to know.
Master: You’re sure?
Me: Cross my heart.
Master: well, the best files are made by Nicholson; but you have to make sure it’s the Dutch Nicholson. Nicholson also has a factory in Canada, those are not quite as good.
Me: Thanks!

And then I’d rush off to buy some Dutch Nicholson files.

Nicholson Files

Those files serve me well to this day, though in all fairness, I suspect the Canadian ones would have served just as well…