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Household Appliances as Tools

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This entry is a little offbeat. You may not think of a refrigerator, a stove, a washing machine or a dryer as a tool but ask the person who uses them the most. Even if people can’t afford new appliances, they consider them a useful enough tool to buy a used refrigerator, or a used washing machine and dryer or whatever they need.

Trenchless Pipe Repair

Sewer pipes (and water pipes) go bad after time. For sewer pipes, that can be especially true if there are trees nearby and the roots get into pipes. The problem is that most of the older pipes that need replacing are terracotta. With ground shifting or house settling or just age the terracotta can deteriorate over time. Since there are joints in the terracotta pipes the roots can grow through the joint or any crack in the pipe and as the root gets bigger it breaks up the pipe.

Traditional Sewer Pipe Replacement

The traditional way to replace a sewer pipe is to bring in a backhoe or other machine and dig a trench down to where the pipe is and then lay a new pipe. Nowadays the new pipe will probably be cast iron or more likely PVC or some other plastic. This creates a large pile of dirt in your yard, can destroy plantings and walkways, patios or decks and whatever else is above the pipe. So you not only have the expense of replacing the pipe but rebuilding the deck or patio and re-landscaping after the project is completed. Plus, the whole project can take a number of days.

New Trenchless Pipe Replacement

Usually, with this newer process, the whole job is done in a day. You don’t need to replant the lawn or shrubs or worry about walkways or anything else that you do with the traditional trench method. It is less expensive and the repairs are permanent (perhaps not in geological time, but for all practical purposes) and meet code.

2 Small Holes vs. One Giant One

Rather than making a large trench, all this method needs is a much smaller hole at the beginning and the end of the piping run. A drilling head is run through the old pipe, breaking it up and expanding the space so that a pipe of the same size can be pulled through. This new pipe conforms to code, has a 100 year lifespan, doesn’t leak and deflects roots and is chemical resistant.

Pipe Relining

Another option, instead of pulling a new pipe through, is to reline the old pipe. A lining is pulled through the pipe. Then an air bladder is blown up to press the lining out against the old pipe. The liner is saturated with an epoxy resin which dries in 3 hours. The diameter of the pipe is only reduced by 5 per cent but is now very smooth with no joints so the flow is better.

So, if you have problems with your sewer line, or water line, check around for the different options available. You may save yourself a lot of money and hassle.

3D Printing

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3D printing is the new thing. The prices have come down considerably so that now you can buy them for as low as $350. Of course, there are others for $3,500 and for industrial purposes, much more than that.

What is a 3D printer?

Well normally, you think of a printer putting ink on a piece of paper. This is 2D printing since you just have the X and Y axes. (Technically even paper is 3D because it does have thickness but we are only considering the surface.) You can have dot matrix printers, laser printers and ink jet printers among others. The 3D printers are variations on ink jet printers.

Instead of printing ink through the “ink jets” they put out plastic or metal. This was developed first for plastics in the 1980s.  Some people also call it additive manufacturing.  Layer upon layer of plastic is laid down and cured with ultraviolet light. Because it is being built as you go, it is possible to create things that would be impossible to create in any other way unless you later glued or bolted parts together.

Cost benefit analysis

Generally it has been more expensive than creating something on an assembly line where the unit costs are very low because of the volume. However, the costs are rapidly coming down. Even so, there have always been cases where the expense is justified and cheaper than the alternative. A good example is in the car industry. In the past when they were working on a new car, they would come up with a design for a part and then have to get it tooled and made and it might take several weeks and be quite expensive. With 3D printing, they can just feed the specs into the computer and out it comes a short time later. It is not only cheaper than the alternative method of making the part, but it also saves a lot of time in the development process which also saves a lot of money.

Subtractive Manufacturing

Processes for metals have also been developed although originally they were called laser sintering and laser melting among other terms but it is now considered to be under the general 3D printing or additive manufacturing category. At first when people thought about 3D manipulation of metal they thought more about removing metal from what was there rather than adding metal. CNC milling would be an example of this. This concept is most commonly called machining but now is sometimes called subtractive manufacturing.

Sacrificial / Support Materials

Another twist that has been added are sacrificial or support materials. If you want to create 2 cogs for example, you don’t want them fusing together as you are laying down the layers. So, you can lay down more than one type of material, not just plastic or metal. The other material will separate or support the parts so they are in the right place and then when done can be removed. Ingenious, eh. Not unlike the masking and other techniques they use in creating computer chips and circuit boards.

We will go into other aspects of 3D printing or additive manufacturing in the future.


Window Glazing Tool

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Tenants are a Pain with Panes

My tenants have broken out a couple of panes in the storm door yet again. This is the third time they have done this. They are a pain with the panes. This is an older style storm door made out of wood with small 12×13 panes. So I got the two panes and put them back in. Usually I scrape out the old window glazing with a flat screw driver and a chisel. The points are still there and I just bend them down, put the new piece of glass in and then bend them back up and put the glazing compound in.

Glazing Points

This time however, the points had come out with scraping or I did something wrong. So the glass was held in by just the new soft glazing compound which of course hadn’t hardened yet. So a day or two later the tenant called and said one of the panes had fallen out and broken.

I wasn’t sure where my glazing points were. Originally they were little flat triangles of metal that you shoved into the door frame to hold the glass in place. They were a pain to deal with. In the past, I think I broke a pane trying to get a glazing point in with a screwdriver or chisel when I was trying to push it into the wood. I must have pushed too hard the wrong way.

So, off to Home Depot to get more glass, glazing points and more glazing compound because my old little can had run out. Decided to get Plexiglas instead of glass. They don’t sell small cans of glazing compound anymore, at least at Home Depot they don’t. What I had to get will last me the rest of my lifetime and probably part of my kid’s lifetime.

Glazing Tool

OK, so this blog is supposed to be about tools. I am finally getting around to that. It turns out the guy at the store showed me a glazing tool. I didn’t know they existed. One end is flat and much stiffer than a putty knife so you can use it to push in the glazing points. The other end is bent in a 90 degree angle like a V so you can hold one side against the pain and have a nice steady angle for the glazing compound. A chisel and putty knife work just fine so I didn’t buy it.

Modern Glazing Points

When I went to put the new pane in, I was pleasantly surprised to see what glazing points look like these days. I have probably seen it before but had forgotten  about it since it isn’t something I do every day. They now have two little tabs bent out so that you can push the point in much more easily instead of trying to push in a thin little piece of metal.

So I put in the Plexiglas. On the piece of glass that hadn’t fallen out, I dug out a bit of the new soft compound and put in a point and put the compound back in place. Did that all the way around the pane. Neither one should be going anywhere anytime soon. If the Plexiglas one does, at least it won’t break.

ReThinking Guns

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We are doing a mix of odd and interesting new tools and devices in this post. Hope you enjoy.

Battelle DroneDefender

This looks like some sort of crazy gun out of a scifi movie. It would fit in with Men in Black or Star Wars. It is designed to take down drones. There are so many drones these days that you never know where one is going to show up, possibly peaking in a bedroom window or spying on a company and trying to steal trade secrets, or perhaps spying on a government installation. It uses radio frequency disruption technology. Amazingly, it can disrupt the signal going to a drone from over 1,000 feet away. Without the signal going to it, the drone will drop to the ground. This is much better than trying to shoot it down. Shooting at drones is not a solution in most circumstances and you would need to be an awfully good shot on top of the other obvious problems.


OK, not table salt, this is a new type of gun. Hmm, this blog seems to be turning into a post about guns. Salt is interesting. The company’s website is saltsupply.com. They decided to rethink what a gun is and what it is needed for. You are not going to go hunting with this gun. It was designed to both protect you in your home, but also to protect whoever you use it against. It is designed to incapacitate but not kill any intruders.

The nice thing about this is that there are so many deaths where kids find a gun and shoot somebody thinking it is a toy and not realizing what they are doing. Or someone hears something, thinks it is an intruder and shoots the person who got up in the middle of the night for a glass of milk. This sort of thing happens all too often.

Salt fires a pellet that is mostly made of salt. It explodes on impact and immediately forms a cloud around the person that temporarily blinds them and constricts their airways making it difficult to breath. The great thing is that even if you miss the person and it hits a wall, it is still just as effective.

This is very important because when people are nervous, they tend to be lousy shots. So if you do have an intruder, you are likely to miss with a real gun and then they are on you and can take the gun and use it on you. With Salt, you can even fire and create the cloud before they open the door so they are incapacitated as soon as they walk through the door.

Old Tools

As one of the contributors to this blog, I thought I would tell you about some of the tools I grew up with. What is really freaky is that now I sometimes go to museums and see tools that I grew up working with. Although, that probably isn’t too surprising because until the explosion of power tools, your basic tools hadn’t changed all that much over the last couple hundred years. Even now, a hammer is a hammer.

Granted, there are a lot of variations on the basic tools, back then and now as well. Plus, people have always made tools for specific purposes. In archeological sites from only 100 or 150 years ago,  they find tools they recognize but also tools that they have no idea what their purpose was.

To give an idea of how things have changed I will tell this story on myself. A few years back someone gave me an intelligence test for entrance into the army in World War I. I figured it would be easy because I am well educated. Well, I came out at the level of imbecile. The reason was that many of the questions had to do with horses or current events. Things that most people knew then but not now. I did an online search and found some tests but not the same one. Apparently there were a number of variations that were used. The ones I just found weren’t that difficult although some had current events from that time era. Click here for an example. If you search, you can find many more variations.

I remember enjoying using a bit and auger with my father when I was little. You never see these anymore. People just use power drills. Another one you don’t see much of anymore are planes. They had a blade sticking a bit out of the bottom and you could take layers of wood off. Much faster than sanding. Once again, people now just use power sanders or planes and other tools that are powered.

One of the most unusual was a type of plane. Unfortunately it was stolen so I no longer have it. It was my grandfather’s. It was used for planing an edge, say perhaps a picture frame. But it would plane two edges or sides at once. Rather than being flat, the plane’s bottom was shaped in a right angle. The blade also had a right angle in it. So when you planed something, you would get a perfect right angle and two sides would be planed at once. Wish I still had it.

Leatherman Tread

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Leatherman Tread

Leatherman has come out with a new tool that doubles as jewelry. It is a bracelet that looks kind of like a tank tread. But each link in the tread has various types of tools. There are screw driver heads of all sorts, flat, Phillips, square and a variety of others. There are two or three on each link. And each link has a hole in it that can be used as a box wrench on bolt heads.

Of course you can’t get as much leverage as with traditional tools, but all told there can be around 25 different tools on the bracelet. It is made of high strength, corrosion resistant stainless steel. The clasp is even functional with perhaps one of the most important tools, a bottle opener.


It is also customizable. You can take links out to make it fit your wrist, or move them around in any order you like. Because each link has a lot of flexibility, you don’t need to take the bracelet apart to use the tool. Just fold the bracelet and go to work. (It would be kind of depressing to need a separate screwdriver to undo the bracelet to be able to use the tools. Luckily Leatherman didn’t make a dumb design decision like that. Not surprising given their history in designing tools.) To see a picture of it, see the article in ToolGuyd.

If you travel a lot, you don’t need to worry about getting through airport security. The bracelet tool passes TSA regulations.

The tool has 10 parts. There are 7 regular links, 2 clasp components and one smaller link to help with size adjustment for different wrist sizes. On the underside of each link are size markings. It will be possible to buy individual links. There will also be a version that includes a wrist watch.

The price will be $150 for the Tread and $500 with the watch.

Oliver Evans, American Genius

Oliver Evans was born in 1755 and died in 1819. I guess you could say he was British since the American Revolution hadn’t happened when he was born, but everyone considers him American, even the Encyclopedia Britannica. (Although, the Britannica was sold to Americans around 1900 and then to the owner of Sears Roebuck in 1920 and the headquarters moved to Chicago where they still are. Even so, they still use British spellings such as colour. The Brits still resent the sale to Americans, but I digress.)

His major accomplishments were the development of the high pressure steam engine and long before Henry Ford, the first continuous production line. But these were only two of many inventions he came up with. He seemed to be constantly looking for ways to automate processes and make them easier.


He started out at the age of 16 as an apprentice to a wheelwright. He became interested in steam and the possibilities of it powering things. But he got diverted by another problem before he got far with steam. To card wool and other fibers, you needed brushes to untangle the fibers. This had to be done before spinning. Spinning and other processes in the textile industry were beginning to be automated. Carding was a bottleneck. Evans invented a system to cut metal hooks or teeth and attach them to a leather belt at a rate of 1,000 per minute. These were better for carding and helped speed up the process.

Automated Production Line

Then when he was 29 he invented the continuous production line. He took a flour mill and created machines that took the grain once it was loaded in at the beginning would move everything along until flour came out at the end of the process. He had to figure out a system of feedbacks and methods so that everything self regulated and kept pace with everything else. By his estimate, it reduced the cost of milling by 50% and was later widely copied around the US. He applied for a patent in several states in 1787. There was no US patent law yet so he couldn’t apply for a US patent.

He applied for a US patent in 1790 when the Patent Office was formed. At this time he also applied for a patent on the high pressure steam engine. He received third patent ever issued by the Patent Office.

High Pressure Steam Engine

The steam engine he saw being used in two models. One would be stationary and be used in factories and other locations. The other could be used for moving land or water vehicles. He wanted to test it out but wasn’t allowed to try it on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for fear of scaring the horses. A few years later he had created versions to do a variety of tasks from sowing seed to running saw mills and boring machines. Evans changed how the beam, cylinder and crankshaft were positioned and linked. He created a very ingenious straight line linkage which was widely copied because of it superior performance.

Dredge and Vehicle

He also created a dredge which was used to dredge and deepen the port of Philadelphia. It took ideas from his mill automation by using a chain of buckets. Interestingly it could not only float but had wheels and could be driven on land making it the first powered vehicle to be used in the United States.

Steam Warship

He wanted to make a steam warship with a large gun for the War of 1812 but couldn’t get anyone in government to OK the idea. If given the go ahead, he would have beaten Ericssons Monitor by 50 years. He was obviously a man ahead of his times. Interestingly, in 1805, he said that there was a need for the government to support and subsidize technological development. Wonder what the right wing of the Republican Party would say about that?