For the 3 people that follow my pitiful blog you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t had a lot of content the past couple of weeks. I can explain, really.
Several years ago I had an Idea. My friends know by now that is usually a sign to run in the opposite direction. My Idea was to design and manufacture and sell a line of custom motorcycle parts. Not that I’m a “biker” per se. I’ve had a few motorcycles and ride occasionally, but really this was about making stuff. Having an idea (lowercase) for a part, working out the design, figuring out how to make it, and then making it and trying to sell it. It has been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot – although perhaps not the things I thought I would.
I discovered that I really enjoy having an idea for a design, and figuring out how to make it. I like making the first one. I even like figuring out the manufacturing to make a batch of them. Making the first 10 to 20 is OK, after that it’s a grind. The first part I designed was a gas cap for choppers. It’s an adaptation of a vintage race car part the originated on the early Miller race cars in the 1920s, and was popularized by Hallibrand in the 1950’s. My spin was to scale it down, and try to pack as many details and curves into it as I could. The original parts were perhaps 6″ in diamater, my design was about half that.
To start I had to learn enough CAD to be able to model the part. I started manufacturing by using an outsource company to machine these out of solid Aluminum, but that was expensive and each part required a not of hand work to remove the machining marks. I learned about producing Stereolithography masters, foundry patterns and casting. I went through several changes in manufacturing to deal with quality and cost. The worst part about making these caps is polishing the Stainless Steel locking arms.
At first the arms were cut from mill-finish sheet. Each one had to be individually sanded starting with 120 and working up to about 600 grit, then polished. Holding on to the little tiny parts was impossible, so I made several different fixtures to hold them. Over time I refined the materials and process to simplify things. I also got really good at polishing, and I grew to hate it. I should have paid attention to that.
As I developed more products each of them ended up requiring grinding, sanding and often polishing. All of these things are hugely messy.
Let me tell you about polishing. It’s fundamentally simple, you hold the part up to the buffer and it gets shiny. But you have to have a true surface first, which means grinding and sanding to remove parting lines and sand texture from castings, rough edges from laser or waterjet cut parts, or tooling marks from machining. Then you sand until the scratches are very fine, then you work through several steps of polishing at the buffer. It’s messy, dirty, backbreaking work. The result is amazing, but it’s not a lot of fun getting there.
The polishing compound is a very fine abrasive in a greasy/waxy binder. The buffs are cotton and hemp. If you lose your focus while polishing the buff can snag the part out of your hand and fling it onto the floor (go back to step 1). At the same time, the part is too hot to hold, and the buffer is flinging fuzz from the buffs and dirt from the compound everywhere. It floats in the air, gets in your eyes and other places best not imagined. The worst is that it makes the entire shop dirty, and that is the real point here.
I quickly outsourced most of the polishing required, and have since hired someone to run the chopper parts business so I can hold down a day job and raise my son. My employee is fantastic, she handles 99% of everything for the business…including the polishing. But the mess from the polishing is phenomenal, it’s everywhere. It gets on my tools, my other projects, everywhere.
I have to do something to change this because, honestly, it’s driving me crazy. Maybe a giant dust collector to start, and wall off the messy areas in the shop? All of the usual constraints apply unfortunately (time, money). But this is a problem I need to solve before I can get back to enjoying woodworking.
I have an Idea…