Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Things My Father Taught Me.....

My Dad was a Tool and Die Maker by training, and a manufacturer's representative by trade. From the time I was 'knee high', he'd take me into his office/shop in Chicago so I could see what he did for a living. I almost literally grew up in a machine shop, and by the times I was 8 or 9 years old, I could tell which customer he'd been at by the types of chips in his shoes! The company he worked for had the franchise to sell Bridgeport Milling Machines, Hisey-Wolf Grinders, Logan Lathes, ELOX EDM machines, and several other lines of high-end "All American" machine tools.
He started as a Machinist's Apprentice after high-school, working in the "Moore's Joliet Stove Works" in my hometown, learning about cast-iron products. On December 8, 1941, my Dad and his brothers trouped down to the recruiting center to enlist. They were going to enlist in each of the service branches, with my Dad's choice being the Navy. During his physical, he was told that he was color blind, and that he wouldn't be accepted by the "regular" military, but if he still wanted to serve, he could join up with a new unit that the Navy was starting, called the "Construction Battalion", which soon became the SeaBees.
He never talked much about the war, typical of a lot of our "Greatest Generation", as it was just something that needed doing, and he and his brothers were going to get it done.
One brother was a paratrooper, one was a Marine, and one was deferred as he had a job with the railroad, and was deemed too valuable in civilian service, and basically told to stay on the job.
They all came home safely to raise families and go back to normal lives.
Anyway.....I was out in the garage the other day, doing some work on an Amateur Radio project, and as I was laying out some aluminum stock to cut, drill, deburr and turn into a little widget, some of things he told me many years ago came back to gently remind me that I was doing things "right", and it brought a smile (and a little tear) to me.
So here's "Dad List" of basic shop practices.

Any job worth doing is worth doing well, or don't do it at all.

If you don't know, ASK!

If you think you know, but aren't sure, find an expert and ASK!

(My Dad really did believe the “No Such Thing As A Dumb Question” mantra).

LEARN the proper, correct names of your tools, whether a hand tool or a machine tool.

Make a drawing or sketch and materials list before you start.

Have all the required tools and materials on hand before starting.

Do your layout work on the side that won't be seen, and protect the finish side during cutting and machining.

Measure TWICE, cut ONCE!

Remove all jewelry and loose clothing before using machine tools. Roll your sleeves up, and tie back long hair.

Buy the best tools you can afford. The “pain” of paying for quality tools only lasts a little while, while the pain of using cheap tools lasts much longer, and costs much more in damaged projects and scrap.

Always clean your tools and work area when you're done for the day. Store your tools properly.

Promptly clean any liquid spilled on the floor, and keep the floor swept clean of any chips.

If using someone else's tools or work area, leave them/it cleaner than when you started.

Keep your cutting tools sharp. Don't let them bang around in your tool box. Dull tools can damage your work and cause accidents.

Keep your measuring tools clean and in a separate drawer. Precision tools should be treated as such, and not allowed to bang around in a drawer with other tools.

NEVER force a tool to do a job it wasn't designed for!

NEVER “store” the chuck key for your drill press in the chuck!

Always clamp the work to the table, or use a drilling vise to hold it. Thin metal will “bite” when the bit breaks through the other side, and a spinning workpiece can be extremely dangerous.

When possible, 'back up' your workpiece with a wood block or sheet so that you don't drill into the table.

NEVER use your hands to remove the swarf or chips! Besides being very sharp, they can also be very hot. Use a small brush to remove them.

Know the “Speeds and Feeds” for the material you're working with. Aluminum is very different than steel.

Use the proper coolant/lubricant when required.

NEVER grind plastic, aluminum, copper, or “soft” brass on a grinding wheel!

Keep your grinding wheels dressed and true, and stand off to the side when turning on the grinder.

(Always good advice. I've had grinding wheels fly apart a second or two after I turned the grinder on, and wire-wheels shed all their wire!)

Unless you have no choice, or no other tool, use a WRENCH on a bolt or nut, not a pair of pliers.

There are at least four types of 'cross-point' screw heads, and they're NOT all “Phillips heads”.

(In case you're interested, there's Phillips, Fearson, JIS B 1012, Pozidriv, Supadriv, Torq-set, and a couple of others that I forget. The driver tips or bits are NOT interchangeable among them, as they'll either chew up the screw, the bit, or both!)

There's no such thing as a “Flat Head Screwdriver”. There are flat BLADE screwdrivers, but a “Flat Head” is a type of head on a screw, not the tool to turn it.

A Pipe Wrench is NOT a Monkey Wrench.

The teeth on a hacksaw blade point FORWARDS when it's properly installed.

Hacksaws and files cut on the FORWARD stroke ONLY. Lift them off the work on the back stroke.


  1. Wow, that all sounds familiar. Some from my dad, who was a carpenter for awhile; some from shop class, and some from a machinist friend.

    All good advice. Thanks for the refresher course.

  2. Reminded me of my Dad - good stuff (including the tear).

  3. I've heard those same ones... :-) Agreed and a good refresher!

  4. SeaBees are kewl to the Nth, my Uncle was a SeaBee. :-) He went on to build BIG stuff, and after the War he traipsed around Afghanistan with a Professor-Dude and found a bunch of mineral deposits that the State Dept. later lost track of until just recently.
    Lucky for them/us they got lost, or someone in State would have just handed it over to the Russians...

  5. Amazing the wisdon that fathers have ins't it.

    Thanks for sharing.


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