Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jib, my new best friend.

The older I get the weaker I get. I just cant lift what I could back in my twenties. I remember dragging some pretty hefty steel out of the rack when I made my living as a fabricator. You really didn't give it much thought. It was just part of what you did. Now days I use any mechanical advantage I can apply. With a pretty creaky back and anticipating it just getting harder to lift some things I hatched a plan more out of sheer necessity.
I started researching wall and column mounted jib cranes. There is a example of a free standing one down the street from the shop that got me stoked about building my own (while I still can). Designing your own crane is not something you take lightly. It needs to be well thought out with correctly sized materials and some real engineering. After doing my engineering homework I took field dimensions in the shop and got busy with the mechanical design as well as gathering the needed materials.
 A few weeks later these are the pivots and their mounts.I didn't want to alter the building or compromise the concrete column holding up the ceiling by drilling huge anchor holes in it. The design called for sandwiching the column between two large steel channels. These were carefully preloaded with high strength studs to provide the needed clamping load for the crane design load and safety factors.
Unfortunately I had to splice the main beam. I wanted a larger radius of coverage than the beam I got could do, so I had to add a few feet onto it. I fretted over this for a while trying to decide which end should have the splice and what the spice would be reinforced with.

I was able to score a really nice chain fall and trolley off Craigslist. I had to drive all the way down to San Jose to get it from an Industrial liquidator down there. It turned out to be perfect for my project. I had been looking for a chain fall and a trolley separately and here was the whole package ready to slip onto my beam.

Now for the hard part. Getting the thing put up safely all by myself. Its about 400 lbs as it sits in this picture.
The start was a little awkward. Carrying heavy steel bits up and down a tall ladder sixteen feet up in the ceiling was not working very well. I needed something different.

To be continued......

Mice are Moving

The big superconducting MICE coil was ready to move into the paint shop in preparation for vacuum potting. We will use the oven to preheat the 4400 lb coil to around 50C. The plan is to pull a vacuum on the cavity and basically suck epoxy into the mold from a reservoir. We use a special epoxy that performs at cryogenic temperatures called CTD-101 Its made by Composite Technology Development and is the gold standard impregnation epoxy for low temperature applications

It is imperative that the item being potted, or in this case the coil casing be vacuum tight with no leaks. We're not talking UHV type vacuum here just bubble tight. An example would be if we pressurized it to a few PSI and went around with  Snoop or soap bubbles looking for leaks. We actually did that on this coil but there were some pesky hard to find leaks so we brought in one of our Helium leak detectors. These are exquisitely sensitive leak testing tools. They are sensitized for helium and can actually detect even a few molecules. We pull a vacuum on the item to be checked and then go around the outside of the vessel or part spritzing helium gas with a wand. When we see a response from the detector we know we are near a leak. There are some special tricks for pinpointing leaks precisely which can be tricky if the vessel has multiple leaks or is out gassing internally and fogging the detector readings. 
Using the assembly shop bridge crane we plucked the coil off the assembly surface plate it was sitting on. The goal here was to place the coil almost vertical and mate it to a large steel support stand. The coil is then attached to the stand and the whole thing goes in the oven for a little bake.
The trick here is going from horizontal to vertical. The way we handled that was by re-rigging the coil on the floor with a manual chain fall in the lower side sling leg. As we pick it up from the blocks on the floor the side with the shorter fixed length slings goes up a little ahead of the adjustable side. Once the whole thing is suspended we lower the chain fall by hand until we get the angle we wanted to mate to the stand. Johnny and Jim guide the coil into final position behind the assembly shop.
  The rest was easy. We attached the coil to the stand with a large stud and then it took a little slow forklift ride to the easy bake oven in the paint shop. This oven is normally used for powder coating but we commandeered it for our potting operations. Tomorrow we start the potting process.

Right now is summer intern season. Tak, one of the technicians in the fusion research department is a barbeque master. He puts on probably four or five barbeques a year and usually cooks the Christmas party meal. Everybody chips in and helps with the prep but mysteriously have important meetings to go to when its time to clean up. The first and most important step is to get the necessary fire permit. Nothing can happen until we secure that important document. 
Tak never annouces the barbeque. Your on your own following the smell to figure it out. The scientific and engineering interns helped with the prep and he actually let them do some real cooking. I guess if you can cut the mustard for what it takes to get a PhD you can be trusted to not burn the Tri-tip.
 He still kept a close eye on them. Everything came out great as usual. Tri-tip, chicken, sausages, calamari, tater tots and chicken salad. For dessert, apple pie. Industrial barbequing at its best.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Steel Tables

I'm getting pretty close to popping for a chunk of steel for my main welding table. I have wanted to make this the last welding table I ever build so I have been playing around with designs. Over the years I have worked on loads of welding tables. Some good, and some downright crappy so I'm pretty fussy about the design being just what I want. My master plan includes a smaller forming table. This is a table specifically designed for doing forming, forging and hammering on. It sits lower to the floor and has purpose designed cutouts and features like a blacksmiths swage block. In the sheet metal shop at work they have something similar that I borrowed some features from to add to my version of a heavy duty forming table.
Take a close look at the picture. The railroad track is extendable for working sheet metal cylinders over or other hollow shapes. This one is a tank with a two inch thick top. It has tapered stake holes in it to accept the standard sheet metal stakes like you used in high school.
I decided to make the smaller forming table first. There were a few things I tried differently on this table. First I chose I-beam for the legs for a couple of reasons. For the same weight in material you get a larger overall cross section and footprint. If you think about table legs they are really only loaded in compression. My standard legs have been square tubing for years. The larger cross section of the I-beam makes the legs look more proportioned to the thick table top. Secondly it gives a natural place to clamp the ground clamp when welding.
I really like the way the legs look on this table from a neat blacksmith shop in Montana. Hollowell
So I played around with the design for a while and finally ordered the plate from Nowell Steel out in Antioch. I have worked with Ted and Chris for years and they did a great job as usual. If you have ever tried to cut thick plate by hand then you really appreciate machine cut edges.
The dimensions are three feet by four feet and an inch and a half thick. Using a magnetic Bux drill I drilled and tapped 1/2-13 mounting holes through to attach the I beam legs. Flipping it over was an interesting operation. I don't have a forklift yet so its all done with the Egyptian method around my shop.
Getting it to this point wasn't too bad I managed with a floor jack and a old Buda toe jack I have. The hard part was the final controlled tip over. I ended up putting a choker around one of the columns in the shop and using a come along to lower in to the floor. The wood under the feet is to keep those legs from sliding on the smooth concrete floor as I lowered it.
 The finished table in position. I still want to add a section of extendable rail like the table in the sheet metal shop at work. Finding a decent chunk of rail in the smaller gage size and the right price is hard. Maselli's up in Petaluma has a section but they want more than I'm willing to pay for it, at least right now.
Now I just need a big fat propane forge to go with it.

Back on the horse Monday

Monday turned into a busy day at work. I am working on several projects that are high profile with the upper level engineering folks. One of the projects is a large superconducting solenoid magnet for the MICE project. MICE stands for Muon Ionization Cooling Experiment. Mice or from the Cern courier MICE . This is a big collaboration project between several labs from all over the world. The tiny part I play in the machine is with the coupling coils. These are large doughnut shaped magnets wound with superconducting wire. These large magnets like the one below,
get inserted into effectively what is a big thermos bottle. We have a fancy name for it which is a cryostat. Then the entire mass gets cooled down to a few degrees above absolute zero (4.2 Kelvin) with liquid helium to make the wire a superconductor. Superconductor That's Jim in the picture posing for scale and preparing the quench protection loops and their landing pads.
 The coil in the picture above fits in the center of this assembly inside the larger squarish box (cryostat).

There is a tricky operation coming up in the next few days where we pull a vacuum on the inside of the coil and pot the space between the windings and the outer housing with a thermally cured epoxy. You only get one chance at it so we have to make sure it going to work. There is a huge amount of work already invested by our teammates at this so we have to be cautious. Not like making a surfboard or art sculpture. Dozens of people all over the world have spent hours and hours on this one coil. Nothing like a stress sandwich with your magnum sized energy drink.

One of the other projects I am working on is called the Neutralized drift compression experiment. Here is a link to a slideshow Jeff, one of our engineers put together of the boys and me having some fun putting stuff together. NDCX2 Pics and Vids This one is a real running project. We are currently commissioning it and configuring all the operating parameters for full scale operations. Our team has been working on this project for the last two years. Lots of different systems and parts that all have to work together to deliver a bunch of lithium ions on a gold foil target with very precise timing. Below is a WARP simulation of the accelerator in action.
 At the heart of the NDCX2 machine is guess what? More magnets of course.  These are little baby ones. Only a couple of Tesla peak field strength. They consume a megawatt of electricity in a millisecond to produce that field. We do lots of things with magnets of all flavors as you will see as this little yarn meanders along.

Ok, off to the studio to do a little work at home while I still have a little energy left. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Morning

Did some cleaning early this morning in the shop. We are working on a wood sculpture in the shop right now and everything is covered with fine wood dust. Hey its supposed to be a metalworking shop so were not tooled to handle fine lightweight dust.

After a little shop cleaning we took a quick run out to the Solano flea market. In the summer we go pretty frequently. Prices are better than the huge Alameda dealer faire but you have to wade through more pure garbage. Picked up a nice cast Iron Desmond belt dressing tool. The red handle caught my eye. When I picked it up I saw it was a dressing tool for abrasive belts instead of the more common grinding wheel type.I really like the cast iron handle.

I also got a pretty decent American Beauty 600 watt soldering iron. It needs a new cord but for five bucks I had a hard time walking away. My neighbor is an antique and collectable dealer.  He goes to France twice a year specifically to buy French junk and collectables. He fills a cargo container and ships the stuff back here. One of the things he seems to find for a bargain over there is broken down ancient French watering cans and Champagne buckets. I do a little repair work for him from off and on to fix some of the more unique pieces to make them more salable. These old bombproof soldering irons are the ticket for soldering thicker galvanized or tinned steel sheet and copper.
Here is a picture of one of the cans I repaired for him using old school soldering techniques and some good acid flux.
These old cans are a challenge to repair. On one hand you are trying to preserve as much of the patina they have built up, and on the other you really need to clean down to bare metal to have any chance of making a decent repair.
 Two champagne buckets and a cool little sponge holder that mounts to the wall above the sink All old, and all French.
Another wine bucket. This one was difficult because the rim was split in two places so it had become seriously out of round. The wood form inside is to help it hold its proper round shape during the repair.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Time for the shop

After a sustained effort that nearly did us in we are really getting the shop and studios set up for serious work. My wife got her studio going first. She already had a pretty good setup in the large family room of the house we left. It was mainly a transfer and organize for her to get to some meaningful work. I have a longer and road since I needed to find and install some major machine tools.

This is my wife's paint studio. In an adjoining room we will set up for printmaking and work on paper. You can see the little etching press I build for her a few years ago. Right now I'm in the rough phase of the design of a much larger press. Originally I built the little one as a delay tactic to get her a press but delay the inevitable need for a much larger machine. It turns out she is one of my best customers for custom equipment and tools.

Buying machinery used is a waiting game. You have to be patient but at the same time ready to move very quickly to catch a good buy. In the meantime I work on shop infrastructure stuff. All the stuff you take for granted in an established shop. Bolt bins, work benches, shelves, stands. It all takes time or if you have buckets of spare cash you can just buy it. As you will see moving forward I'm what they call a cheapskate.

For years I have not been able to get at all of my hammer collection. They have been literally stuffed in drawers and cabinets. Building a hammer rack was high on the to do list.
I thought I built it big enough but I missed a full drawer of weird hammers. No sooner than I built the rack then I had to expand it. You can see the hammer supports are made from Unistrut channel. After doing some of the renovations I've become s fan of Unistrut products. It takes a little while to get a little inventory of fittings but now that Lowes and Home Depot sell some of the stuff its a lot easier. The stuff is pretty cheap and strong. Before I got the welder hooked up it allowed me to build some needed stuff without welding.

The big leap

Pretty soon after I had settled into the new routine I realized there was something missing. Personal projects are frowned on at my new employment digs. I realized I needed to put my own personal shop together. I made an attempt at the house we were living in at the time. Word to the wise, never buy a house without a garage if your a metalworker or gear head. All we had was a pathetic carport. Fortunately there was enough land to build something. Working with a local builder we had plans drawn up for a super garage workshop addition. The carport would go bye bye and we planned to add around 1200 square feet of garage to be used as a workshop/studio. The deeper we got into the planning the higher the cost crept. Its the old get a little contract and then wait for the additions or change orders to bloat the job out.

My spidey sense tingled and said wait a minute right before we went down the rabbit hole and started building something. The housing market was making some scary rumbling noises so I decided to hang onto my hat for a while. Good frickin thing. Well you all know what happened next. Houses went in the tank and so did my big garage plans.

I still had a problem. I still needed a shop for a creative hands on outlet. I built a large shed in the backyard as a stopgap measure. The shed was not my dream shop but it was better than nothing. I went along like that for a while before I really decided I had really had enough of the wimpy shop.

My wife and me don't really entertain or give much of a hoot about the house we live in. Its just a sleeping and eating box you use to get from one project to the next. We were paying a lot of money to live in a box with a great view we didn't care for and more importantly didn't suit our needs.

I guess I should tell you a little about my wife. She is a metalworker also. Her passion is fine art and printmaking, but it you have ever met an artist you know their interests cross over into many mediums. We met at a welding school we used to teach at back in the 80's. Its gone now along with many vocational education programs but were still here humming along.

Between the two of us we decided and most importantly committed to changing the situation. Its was pretty cool when both of us were focused on the same goal and had a very similar picture of what we wanted in a shop studio space. We started looking at live work properties.

We looked at all kinds of stuff that might work. In all I think it took us maybe six months before we found a couple of decent spots with the right combination of space, electricity, living quarters and the right price. We totally lucked out and landed what I call an eight out of a possible ten points. The only thing needed to boost it to a true ten would be the ability to walk to work.
 It was pretty rough on the living end. We had to do a lot of work to even bring it up to our not fussy standards. We saw that it had the makings of a dream shop. So we bit the bullet and jumped. In the process we turned our lives upside down and then shook the container. We dumped the boat anchor house and like they say "We picked up and moved to Beverly" Hillbillies that is.
The first priority was getting the living situation squared away. The shop could wait a little longer and we knew if we didn't fix the living space now we most likely wouldn't once we got going on shop projects.
The first wave of the attack was the kitchen. Here is a before shop of the rat hole kitchen area.
If it wasn't for Craigslist I don't know how I would have pulled off these renovations. You can not believe what people offer for sale there. We would hop in our little truck and drive all over the bay area to find the stuff we needed. There was no shortage of things to work on. We had some dodgy electrical and plumbing to rip out and replace.
One nice thing about being in the trades is you tend to make friends that also work with their hands. My Buddy Tom owns an electrical company which put up the lights in the shop area for me. I was not looking forward to working off a ladder with sixteen foot ceilings stringing lights and running conduit. Check him out if you need any commercial electrical work done. Diablo Electric

More soon.

How I got here

I thought it might be helpful if I gave a little history of how I got here. The last few years have seen some major changes that illustrate what is important to me in my life and work. A quick drive through recent history.

A little more than five years ago I was in a dilemma. I came to the harsh realization that my job has slowly drifted from what I really found satisfying to a job of tasks that nobody else wanted to do. The saving grace was I had the best metalworking shop anybody could hope for to work on my own projects.

This company is a cool little engineering job shop in Pleasanton Ca that builds all manner of custom machinery. Creative Viewpoint Machinery I was the first employee there and ran it for eighteen years. When we started out everybody did everything. There was no distinction between machinists and engineers, you just sacked up and got the work done. It was one of the best learning periods of my life and I thank all my workmates there for the experience.  We did some pretty demanding metalwork and built some really wild and weird machinery.

All things eventually change. The owner wanted to retire and sell the company. After this the shop climate changed and I realized that it was a time for a change. Pretty tough decision for me at the time after all the years I invested in helping build the company. But my belief is, if somethings not working, change it. So I did.

So after eighteen years I found myself dusting off my resume and going to some interesting interviews. Nothing like sitting in a room full of scientists and getting grilled on everything from mathematics to personnel issues. Take my advice and don't go head to head with a physicist on math.......

Everything worked out and now I have a position that fulfills me with the technical challenges I enjoy in a field wide open for learning with people willing to share their knowledge. I'm a little fish in a big pond, instead of a big fish in a little pond.

First Post


My name is Tom Lipton and this is the first blog I have ever created and this is the very first post. A little background on me to put the flavor of the blog in perspective. I'm a lifetime metal worker and machine designer. For me my passion for metalworking all started when I was nine years old with a welding helmet and a musty leather jacket.

A few years ago I wrote a book about my experiences in the metalworking trades Sink Or Swim Book that has been successful enough that I'm encouraged to write another one. I want the flavor and layout of my second book to distinctly different and better. This blog hopefully will help test drive some ideas and provide some dynamic feedback from readers to make the book better.

So bear with me for a few posts until an old geezer figures out how to get this thing formatted and looking like something. If your interested in metalworking of any type, mechanical devices, machinery old and new, scientific equipment of epic proportions, sculpture, or just like working with your hands. Stick around.

Thanks for looking.