Sunday, November 15, 2009

a digression on tools, part of a series

Any good mad scientist requires tools. And not just any tools, but good tools, and quite often, some very special purpose tools.

Now since I am in a generous frame of mind -- and not in any case the sort of hermit mad scientist who hides in a remote castle with only a misshapen lab assistant for company, but one who actively shares mad science information with other mad scientists -- ahem, a generous frame of mind I say, I wish to impart a small bit of shop wisdom to my many (three?) readers. When this sort of thing happens, it will be beginner's stuff - I ain't no Guy Lautard.

Today's topic: Zen & The Art of Oilcan Appreciation: An Inquiry Into Value

Almost any self-respecting mad scientist keeps machinery about. Preferably machinery constructed using forbidden knowledge and dark arts, but machinery nevertheless. And all machinery has moving parts, rather by definition. And as a general rule, moving parts require lubrication.

It would be nice if there were one lubricant - whale oil, dolphin cartilage extract, babies tears, something exotic - that would work for all applications, but alas the laws of physics, no matter how far we attempt to bend them in our laboratories, eventually win out.

For moderate bearing loads and high bearing speeds, we use a thin, very slippery oil, for example: spindle oil on a mill. For high bearing loads and low bearing speeds (ie; vehicle wheels) we use heavy grease.

We'll talk about grease some other time. As I said, we're talking about oil cans today.

Now, as with all things in life -- transistors, lawyers, lawn mowers, poker chip sets -- there are very bad ones, bad ones, mediocre ones, good ones, and very good ones. The curve of quantity over quality is a gaussian distribution, nyuck-nyuck. Writer Theodore Sturgeon generalized this as "Sturgeon's Law" - ie; "Ninety percent of everything is crap." This is simply a cynical way of restating one of the things we all learned from reading "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance": that quality is rarely found and often not even noticed or appreciated.

And now a digression within a digression: if you have no idea what I am talking about - if you have not read "Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values" by Robert M. Pirsig, step away from the computer, go find a copy, read it, and then come back to this. This article will wait.

As I was saying, because of the law of supply and demand, quality costs more, because as we all know - most people would rather purchase crap because it's handy or cheap, so that's what most companies make: crap.

Now you might reasonably think that the lowly oil can would hardly bear mentioning, as shop tools go. Why am I not instead expounding upon something more interesting and cutting edge such as the virtues of cobalt alloy end mills vs. TiN coated High Speed Steel end mills?

Get it? "Cutting edge"?


Look, if you have a "laboratory" of some sort, you may not possess much machinery. But if you also own a "workshop" - a place where objects are transformed into, and intermingled with, other objects - the hard way - then you will find yourself oiling all sorts of mechanisms on a semi-chaotic, semi-periodic basis.

I have a workshop.

Now over the years, I have owned several oil cans with several different lubricants in them.

Since I began to obtain machine tools, I started to think about using exactly the right recommended lubricants for various bits so as to prolong the tool for the next generation. Good machine tools, (of which I own one, ahem) can last for generations and can be handed down for a long time if you take care of them .

As I was saying, over the years, I have owned several oil cans. Most of them have sucked, in that they didn't pump oil ONLY to the end of the spout, they leaked in various places and soon became covered in a thin film of whatever they contained mixed with tiny bits of everything else you find around a shop.

Except for one oil can, which I shall tell you about now.

The Goldenrod brand of oil cans, manufactured by the Dutton-Lainson Company in Hastings, Nebraska (68902) is of superior quality to other oil cans I have owned. Here are the reasons:

1) it doesn't leak. It puts pumps the lotion oil on it's skin the job where it's wanted or it gets the hose - stop it goddammit! they'll hear you! without leaking anywhere else. I attribute this to the gobs of what appear to be a white epoxy-like substance joining the nozzle to the flexible hose (which hasn't leaked either, yet) and said hose to the threaded bit that goes onto the pump output. The latter bit is a removable threaded fitting (if the spout gets damaged, you can replace it, other cans have this feature too) and said fitting has a gasket between its edges and the pump. It doesn't leak there.

2) The label is classy and seems impervious to oil. I realize this is a pretty cutting edge idea here: a label for an oil can... that is, now get this: impervious... to oil! Isn't that cool? It's some metallized mylar which hasn't shown any sign of changing its character since I bought the thing a few years ago. Every other oil can I've ever had came with a cheap paper label stuck on with something that is probably best not thought about, and if I did not peal it off after bringing the thing home, it would soon become saturated with oil - mirabile dictu! - and slough off, on my hands, my gloves, etc. This is good marketing. If your label stays on, it not only impresses people, it continues to advertise your product while keeping it looking classy. If your label turns to gooey, oily sludge... especially if the logo or name can still just quite be made out... not so much.

3) It is better constructed than others. Upon examining seams, it becomes apparent that the Goldenrod can is fabricated from a thicker gauge of sheet metal than the other oilers I own. Since this one is a larger capacity (10 or 12 ounces, I believe) it comes with a stout handle. The outside of the flexible spout remains dry. The moving bits are made from MUCH thicker sheet metal than the moving bits on the other cans.

It occurred to me just now to go hit the manufacturer's website, which states that the company has been in business since 1886:

It seems they make some cheaper oilcans whch look suspiciously similar to the ones I own but don't like. Hmm. In any case, I recommend purchasing their "Industrial" line, which appears to be the one I own and love.

Here is a picture of two oil cans I own:

two oil cans - web.jpg
I've had the one on the right for a couple of years. I've been keeping 30W motor oil in it. I'm going to move its contents into the anonymous can on the left, because I expect it (the black one) to leak, and a thicker oil will leak less, or or at least more slowly. Then I will fill the Goldenrod can with spindle oil for the mill. There is a little capped oil cup on the mill for this purpose which must be filled occasionally. This Goldenrod can is perfect for that job. It even has a special tip which is specifically designed for lifting up the dust caps on oil caps. Did you know what those funny shaped oil can spout tips are for?

The one on the left is brand new, and it is label-less because I expended a good thirty minutes, several ounces of mineral spirits, and at least a pound of "elbow grease" getting the damned paper labels off. Except for the style and construction of the flexible spout, it is identical to another leaky oil can I've had for about five years.

Unfortunately, the last time I found myself in a hardware store, I remembered that I needed a new oil can for spindle oil. I was overtaken by the imp of the perverse and I bought the oil can on the left. Had I thought about it for a moment, I would have remembered that I wanted more oil cans like the Goldenrod I already have. (they come in a variety of shapes and sizes) But I was a well-trained consumer, and bought the expedient thing without thinking much about it. Until later. And thinking about it prompted this blog entry, which is gone on altogether too long already, so I'll keep the rest of this short. I fully expect the anonymous black can on the left to leak just as badly as its twin brother - another can made in a strikingly similar way. If it does, I expect I will replace them both with Goldenrod cans. You see, I want you dear readers, to learn from my mistakes.

So if you're in the market for an oil can or three, Gomez recommends "Goldenrod" brand oil cans by the Dutton-Lainson Company!

I have not been compensated for this recommendation in any way by anyone. No one at Dutton-Lainson knows I'm going to write this.

But you know, if you guys at Dutton-Lainson do end up reading this, and you think I'm a great guy and should be rewarded for pimping your products, you're totally welcome to send me some free stuff.

I'd like to talk a bit more about lubrication in general. The two chief complaints one hears from visitors to a metal-working shop is A) how filthy it is (especially true of welding areas or places where grinding or sanding are done; and B) how every surface in the place seems covered in oil.

Hint: it's supposed to be; oily, that is. The dirtiness can be contained, managed, periodically reduced, but never eliminated.

But all those lumps of cast iron and machined steel are made from alloys that will rust if not painted, and wear if not lubricated - often on the same surfaces. Wear surfaces such as bed ways are of necessity unpainted and made of alloys which can rust. So it's good practice to run moving bits of of machinery through their entire ranges of motion right after lubricating, to distribute that nice film of protective oil over the ways, v-grooves, etc.

It takes surprisingly little time to attend to every lubrication point on a machine, but it takes only a few hours of running time after lubrication has run low between two surfaces to ruin those bearings forever.

So if it moves, oil it.
If it doesn't move, paint it.


jdmorse said...

A brief survey reveals something like eight different lubricants-not including grease-at my shop. I'm not anal about lubrication (stop that!)but I know what kind to use in various applications. The pump on the left side of your mill got fairly regular use.

Firefairy said...

As a mad artist who is still working on the machinery portion of her portfolio, I find this very useful. After all, if my mad scientist friends are going to give me strange bits of machinery for holiday presents, I might as well keep them healthy! :-)

Bill Lemieux said...

Hi John! Glad to see your comment here. I rebuilt that pump (it was full of chips) but it is still very hard to push down on. OTOH, it seems to be pushing oil everywhere it is supposed to go, as near as I can tell without disassembling the knee/saddle/table.

I have toyed with the ideas of:

A) replacing it with the sort where one pulls up a spring-loaded lever and then goes about one's business while it slowly applies the oil (instead of having to lean on the mushroom head until it bottoms out, which takes about half a minute).

B) disassembling the ends of every fitting to ensure oil comes out of each one. Clearly, this 'B' ought to come before 'A'.

That reminds me: I need to ask you if you have any spindle oil, and whether I can buy (or trade you something for) a pint or so. Thought ought to be a lifetime supply for me...

jdmorse said...

Well, it's sorta supposed to be hard to push; you're shoving fairly heavy oil into all the little places it's supposed to be. If you had little resistance, it would be time to look for puddles on the floor :)
I'll check my supplies on the oil and get back to you.

Bill Lemieux said...

Dang, I wish you'd stop making me feel so foolish. It seems like such common sense when YOU say it, but it doesn't occur to me first. ;)

Must be the experience.

(code for OLD)

jdmorse said...

Who's old!

Bill Lemieux said...

Oops, did I say that out loud?

Don't worry, I'm feeling I'm a member of the same club, lately.