Getting Things Done

Posted on December 2nd, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Jeez, I feel stuffed. My back aches, my legs hurt, my hands are sore with little cuts and bruises and – despite having had a shower – I still feel grimy.

But I’m pleased with what I achieved.

This has been an unusual week. In one respect it’s been sad (the cat we’ve had for 12 years had to be put down); in another respect strange (I abruptly resigned from contributing to Silicon Chip, a magazine I’ve been associated with for 14 years); and in another respect puzzling (a former colleague chose to embark on what I consider to be an odd career move). But the upshot of all this is that I’ve had both more time available than normal and I’ve simultaneously felt the urge to concentrate on Getting Physical Things Done.

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First on that list was getting my 1969 Austin 1800 roadworthy’d, insured and registered. And since it turned out all I had to do was put in a new battery and turn the key (she started without any problems after at least a year of not running!), that was pretty easy. (I’ll write more about that car another time – it’s the one whose purchase was described at Driving Emotion).

So what’s all the physical work been?

Well, first was the mounting of the mill. After having kept it in its wooden storage crate for the last year, I decided to install my vertical mill in my workshop. At 350-odd kilograms, any bench on which the mill was going to sit would need to be pretty sturdy – not to mention giving a firm foundation to reduce vibration. So I went off to a salvage shop and bought some thick-wall square tube. As you’d expect at a salvage yard, it was secondhand (with quite a few pre-drilled holes!) but for this application, that didn’t matter.

I got out my secondhand arc welder (the first time I have used it for more than tacking) and welded-up a four-legged base with three cross-braces. To be really honest, the welding was pretty horrible but it was certainly strong enough for the application. On top I put some heavy timber (I’ll tell you in a moment how that timber purchase came about!) and then I painted the frame. The table weighed about 30kg – solid and sturdy. I got it into position and then used my hydraulic engine crane to hoist the mill into position. Then, for the first time ever in my life, I could turn on a mill and try it out!

That was Friday – yesterday. I’d finished building the base and installing the mill by lunch time, so I turned to the next task.

About a year ago I bought a secondhand pan-brake – a sheet metal folding machine. The eBay description suggested it was 6 feet long and had nine fingers, allowing the folding-up of the ends of boxes (ie ‘pans’, so explaining the name). Pan-brakes of this size go for AUD$4000 or even more, but this one I sniped at $1825. That’s still a helluva lot for an amateur workshop tool that won’t be used all that often but a tool like this can be expected to have an occasional-use life of literally a hundred years or more.

But when I arrived at the boat construction yard, 6×4 trailer behind the Lexus LS400 I then owned, I was a bit taken aback. This machine was HUGE! For starters it wouldn’t fit in the trailer bed – the legs were too widely spaced. So off I went off to the local hardware store to buy three long pieces of timber about 190mm wide and 50mm thick. The timber could be used to extend the trailer bed and the strength of the timber took into account what I was now estimating as the very considerable mass of bender. (And, yes, that’s the timber that I later used under the vertical mill!)

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The yard had a forklift to deposit the bender in the trailer but I was a bit perturbed when I saw how hard the forklift had to work to do the lifting. We strapped the bender in very securely and then I headed off for the 100-odd kilometre trip home. It was a slow trip; a very slow trip. At anything over about 60 km/h, the trailer developed a sway. I started to think that this pan-brake was very heavy indeed….

At home I cajoled a neighbour with a bob-cat into lifting the pan-brake off the trailer. He was willing but wondered if his machine would have the capacity to do it – although that part of the exercise actually proved to be straight-forward. He lifted the bender and I drove the trailer out from under. But then we had to try to get the bender to its installation spot… under my house. I live in a typical Queensland house which is elevated: my workshop is the concreted area under the house. Trouble is, the driveway that leads under the house is very steep – fine for cars but not so good for a bob-cat carrying a hugely heavy bender…

We found out the hard way: part-way under the house, the bob-cat suddenly leant over forwards, the slings slipped and the bender crashed to the ground with a thud that literally shook the house. The neighbour, complete with his bob-cat, departed the scene fast (and who could blame him; the machine was clearly over-loaded) and I wondered what to do next. After some thought, I disassembled the machine, using the hydraulic engine crane to move each part to separate resting places under the house. The bender split into three major components: each I estimated to weigh 250 – 350kg…

So perhaps you can see why nothing much happened with the bender for quite some time.

Then yesterday, after my success with the mill, I decided to get brave. To put not too fine a point on it, I am shit-scared of moving very big, very heavy things. Slings quivering; crane clearly deflecting; the knowledge that should anything fail, it would be immensely dangerous. Disassembling the bender when it was lying crashed on its side had been hard enough – how would it be trying to reassemble it upright?

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However, all went smoothly – mostly because this time I was very aware of much each bit weighed. But by the time I moved the pieces, got them orientated the right way (lots of putting down and picking up), assembled them and then painted the bender, I was bloody exhausted. I don’t know how many times over the two days I pumped that hydraulic handle, pulled on apparently immobile weights, heaved and struggled, but it must have been dozens and dozens. (That time also includes a trip to a bolts supplies shop and some other tasks.)

And now I am feeling it in my muscles, my hands and my back. ’Course, with three or four burly blokes, a workshop crane or forklift, level ground and plenty of vertical clearance, it would all have been easy!

As I write this, the bender is awaiting a metre or two of movement to its final resting spot. And, despite all the effort so far expended, I am literally yet to bend a single piece of sheet metal!

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