Sunday, September 15, 2013

What a Trip!

This year’s Rendezvous was incredible!  We had over two dozen attendees, some old friends, some new faces, lots of shooting, and plenty to do.  Plus we sold out all 300 of this year’s raffle tickets benefiting Soldier’s Angels Valour IT project.  If you weren't there.  You really missed out!

The trip started off at O’Hare as usual.  In my checked luggage I had 4 firearms shoehorned into a fairly small case.  This year’s kit included my Ruger 22/45 (MkIII) for steel shooting, a Ruger Super Blackhawk playing the body double for the Blackhawk True Blue Sam donated to the raffle this year, a Walther PP in .32 acp (because I could shoot it without burning up harder to find calibers) and the Stevens “Little Scout 14-1/2” I donated to the raffle.  Luckily the Stevens is a takedown so it fit crosswise into the suitcase (lockable hard sided camera case) 

With all of the shooting irons packed, I was still able to fit in ammo to feed them all including some precious mini-mags and game-shok 22 for the little Ruger.  That didn't leave a whole lot of .22LR at home, but I figured I’d rather use it up on this trip than resort to throwing pebbles at steel plates.

So with everything locked up securely I handed off my bag to the TSA and spent the next several hours listening to various airport security warnings  and sitting in flying Aluminum tubes.  That gave me plenty of time to ponder topics like “If it’s such a special announcement, why is it pre-recorded and playing on a 15 minute loop?”  Or, “Where do the bag handlers learn how to drop bags from 6” and make them hit with the same force as a 6’ drop?”

I dragged into the Silver Legacy at nearly 2AM so I checked in and hit the sack right away.  Luckily the time difference didn't let me sleep  more than a few hours before I was ready to get up again.  A quick meet & greet with the other early arrivals, a run through the buffet line and we were off to Cabela's.
The folks here have been quite good to us in years past and this year was no exception.  This year they received and held practically all of our door and raffle prize swag for us, which they had waiting for us as we walked in.  Then they proceeded to give us coupons and offer us tours through the gun library.  While everyone was drooling over the ‘if I won the lottery’ cases I did a little ammo scouting.
Me:  “Hey Kevin, didn’t you say you hadn’t seen any 22LR in the wild for 6 months now?”
Kevin: “Mini Mags!!!  WHERE?!”

We all managed to score a 100rd case of mini-mags for pretty much the same price I would have expected before the shortage.  From what I could tell, they were putting out a fixed amount each day and not replenishing until the next.  The system seems to work pretty well.   They had more out a couple mornings later when I made a quick detour before going to the range.
Their gun counter was pretty well stocked too.  The last time I was in a Cabela's the shelves were almost devoid of firearms with the possible exception of a couple used shotguns, a Taurus Judge and a purple gripped LCP (really Ruger…why?) This time I didn't see any empty slots in the display cabinets.
After a little perusing the shelves we all ponied up for the ammo and loaded up once more for a trip to the Roop County Range at Fernley

Now last year we came out here on a Sunday and were treated to a little exposition shooting by the Roop County Cowboy Shooters. 

That picture was actually taken after the last of their matches, but they were nice enough to stick around for us.  This year we arrived while their matches were in full swing expecting to watch some shooting, chat with a few cowboys and cowgirls then go home. 

We watched a few people shoot then something wonderful happened.  People started putting down guns and ammo at the loading table and saying “What would you like to shoot?” 
Apparently we looked a bit hesitant because folks started coming over and saying things like “Around here, if someone offers you free ammo, you say yes!” 
Fair enough!  We all started taking turns at the firing line whenever there was an opening between the paying shooters. 

We even had a chance to shoot some beautiful rolling blocks at a 4oo yard target!

Now for those who aren’t familiar with Cowboy Action Shooting, I’ll backtrack just a bit.

CAS is a sport supported by the Single Action Shooting Society and is one of biggest (if not the biggest) shooting sports out there.  Basically it’s speed shooting for pre 1900 type firearms meets wild west cosplay.  Most CAS clubs set up western themed range facilities where competitors can shoot stages through bank windows, over saloon doors,  from gallows platforms, out of stage coaches, or even from faux horses.  Competitors are also expected to dress in period attire and adopt cowboy handles to further enhance the experience

Getting started does require a fair bit of equipment.  Your basic kit includes two six shooters, a lever action rifle, a shotgun, some serviceable gunleathers, a costume, a cart to haul around all of your loot, a toolkit for emergency repairs, a cleaning kit, and usually some reloading equipment to reduce the cost of all of the ammo you burn through.  The initial cost may be a bit of an obstacle, but CA shooters are notoriously easy going usually willing to lend a hand (or even a gun) to a new shooter. 

There are usually side matches as well, some SASS sanctioned and some club specific.  These typically use firearms other than those used in normal competition.  Some matches are designed for percussion/muzzle loading firearms, some for derringers and pocket pistols, others are for long distance rifles.  There’s a place for pretty much any pre-1900 (or in some cases early 1900s) firearm you like.
And if you just want to do some shooting for the sake of shooting, you can use a break in the competition to shoot stages wither pretty much any firearm you like.

Now that’s a funny lookin’ shootin’ iron fer a  cowboy.

The Roop County Cowboy Shooters club has some really great people in it.  Once we used up a little of their ammo they invited us down to their pavilion to rest up and chat a bit. 
“Care for some water?”  “Here, have some cookies.”  “Help yourself to an air rifle.”  Yes, they had an air rifle range set up next to the lunch area so people could unwind from shooting by doing a little target practice.  Nice eh?  Hopefully next year we can get together again!

After that it was back to the hotel for a quick nap before we metup with the crew for supper.  More on that next time.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cheap guns, the good the bad, and the ugly.

A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon-so long as there is no answer to it- gives claws to the weak 
      -George Orwell

Have you ever used a Hi-Point?  I’ve handled a few of them, and if it weren’t for a few Cook County busybodies I’d probably own one of their carbines.  Now I’m quick to say that their reputation as ugly ducklings is well deserved.  Their pistols in particular have an odd sort of top heavy look to them and aesthetics that are vaguely reminiscent of B movie scifi props.  But before you get the opinion that I don’t like them, let me make it clear that I’m actually a fan.  Not because of their looks or their performance, but because of their cost.  

As shooters, it’s easy for many of us to dismiss inexpensive guns as junk or Saturday night specials, but if you look at the firearms owned by ordinary citizens over the years, the importance of ‘cheap’ guns is hard to dismiss.  

Take the wild west for example.  The images we conjure up are full of iconic cowboys with six-shooters, lever actions, and coach guns; but for all the cowboys and horses in the west you also had merchants, book-keepers, tradesmen, and other townsfolk who weren’t likely to need a big six shooter on their hip, but still wanted something that they could use for self defense.  Many of these folks got a bulldog.

No, no...not even close.  we’re still talking about guns.

The “British Bulldog” was a basic double action revolver who’s design can be traced back to Webley.  These had a reputation as being good, reliable handguns.  But most of the “British Bulldogs” in circulation weren’t made by Webley, but rather by small shops throughout Europe, and particularly in Belgium.  A few gunsmiths with mostly hand tools, could turn simple forgings into functional firearms, have them proof stamped, and then send them off to foreign markets by the dozen.  

Most Belgian copies were not particularly long lived.  ‘Soft’ parts would wear quickly, giving way to timing and lockup problems, but as long as they were seldom used and kept clean, they were likely to work when called upon. They were usually small enough to fit into almost any pocket discreetly, and though they weren’t likely to be accurate at ranges much beyond arms reach, the stout looking big bore barrels gave plenty of incentive to leave the wielder alone.

The evolution of cheap guns paralleled their more expensive counterparts.  While Smith and Wesson turned out high quality top break revolvers, their neighbors at Harrington and Richardson turned out budget minded copies.  Many of these designs were nearly identical to their better known counterparts.  Their differences were most likely to be in fit & finish, metallurgy, and heat treatment.  

Like the (Belgian) British bulldogs, they were not likely to hold up well if shot regularly, but they still served a purpose. 

Someone of average means could save up a few dollars and order one of these from the Sears catalog, and have a functional sidearm for much less than the cost of a higher quality brand.  

This little example (if you choose to believe the story) spent most of its life under a cash register in a Chicago hardware store, just in case of ‘trouble.’  I don’t know if was ever called upon to protect its owner, but aside from a little cosmetic wear, it’s lovely, and quite functional.  I certainly wouldn’t choose it as a primary self defense tool, but I would be confident in its functionality as such.  

So, “EJ” you say, “These seem like short lived but functional tools.  Has the whole ‘Saturday Night Special’ thing been overblown?”

Not exactly.  Proponents of gun control often apply the SNS label a bit too liberally for my taste, but there are certain firearms that do constitute a safety hazard, and not just to people in front of the muzzle.  

Meet the Valor SM-11.  It belongs to a class of firearm which has only two design requirements: 1.  Be a firearm. 2. Be cheap.

I see these occasionally come up for sale, and they are usually in one of two conditions.  They’re either parts guns, or mint in box with a nearly full box of vintage ammo.  The way I see it, some people bought the gun, shot a magazine or two to see how it worked, then put it in a drawer for the rest of its life.  Anyone who continued to shoot one of these likely broke it a box or two of ammo down the line.  

The owner of this example lost the front of the slide downrange using ordinary factory ammo.  “What’s that?” you say…”Is that, pot metal?”  

No, it’s probably Zamak, which is just a fancy way to say high strength pot metal. 

Apparently in order to avoid the cost of forging or machining the frame and slide, they were die cast instead.  It’s a much faster, cheaper process, but Zamak is a lousy material due to its brittleness and corrosion problems.  The cost cutting didn’t stop there.  Compare the internal workings of the SM-11 to the much higher quality Colt 1908 parts.  

The moving parts in the Colt were milled, heat treated and usually ground to a good finish.   Now you may not need to have such a clean finish on every part of a more budget oriented gun, but remember, these are the bits that keep the gun from going 'bang' when it's not supposed to...they should at least be fairly rugged.

In the Valor, there are several parts made from stamped sheet metal and a few made from plastic (including the safety)  A quick check with a file makes it clear that the steel bits, maybe aside from the barrel, were not heat treated.
The design itself is not actually that bad.  It’s a rip off of the Walther Patent Model 9, which is a perfectly decent little pistol.  The Valor is easy to assemble, somewhat ergonomically sound, and (aside from the undersized safety lever) functional.  It’s the choice of materials that makes it a nightmare.  Between the brittle slide and the plastic safety block, I don’t think I would ever want to fire one of these, much less carry it.

Now contrast the SM-11 to the ‘cheap gun’ of today.  The Hi-Point is still an ugly duckling, but it’s quite rugged. Iraq Veteran tried to destroy one of these and pretty much had to turn it into a pipe bomb to do it.  

The pistols may not have a spotless reputation but from what I've both seen and heard they run great so long as you use hot ammo and don't limp wrist. And if you think the stock factory trigger isn't quite your speed, it's actually not too complicated to polish up the sliding surfaces to make them pull smoothly.  (Note: Use caution, just because you saw it on YouTube doesn't make it a good idea!!)  If you're still not confident, shoot one to prove it to yourself and practice clearing stovepipes just in case (you should be doing that anyway!)

No, Hi-Point doesn't do fancy, they aren't pretty, and they won't get oohs and aahs at the range, but they won't cost you a fortune, They're made right here in the USA, and they won't fall apart when you use them

When I look at it in that light, I’m actually quite glad that there are affordable guns like the Hi-Point.  
They make it affordable to have ‘claws!’

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gunblogger givaway

I hope everyone out there is keeping up with what’s happening over at Mr. Completely’s Gun Blogger Rendezvous page. Mr. C has posted this year’s schedule, including the newly added bowling ball mortar event! He’s also posted a list of sponsors which, looks pretty impressive. If you’ve been to the rendezvous in years past, you know there has been some pretty good swag lately, and this year is no exception. I already know that True Blue Sam is donating a Ruger Blackhawk to this year’s raffle. If I get my tail in gear it will be clothed in a nice custom holster rig.

Also, I’m pleased to announce yet another firearm will be joining the raffle.

Back around 1900 Stevens was very well known for making an assortment of ‘boys rifles.’ Unlike today, teaching a child to shoot was the norm in most places and being able to give a child a rifle would ensure many hours of entertainment, and maybe even a critter or two to put on the table.

Stevens targeted this market by making a string of single shot rifles in small sizes. They were mostly simple construction with colorful names like “Sure Shot” “Crack Shot” “Maynard Junior” and “Little Krag.” Around 1906 they introduced a model they called the “Little Scout 14.” It was a rolling block action that was operated by a simple thumb stud on the side of the block. This model had a single piece stock that enclosed the receiver. This was made for a relatively short time before Stevens redesigned the rifle with a two piece stock, making it a very simple and compact takedown rifle.

The new model was dubbed the “Little Scout 14 ½” and produced from about 1911 through the WW 2 (Dates vary according to source) When I ran across this I wasn’t all that enthused at first. These rifles were intentionally made to be as simple as possible and the outward condition of this one didn’t look too good from the pictures I first saw. Then the seller said “I was thinking about polishing it up and rebluing it, the old bluing has funny streaks running through it.” I winced a bit and struck a deal on the condition that he NOT try to clean it up before I could check it out.

You see when Stevens switched to two piece stock with the exposed receiver, they didn’t use any bluing techniques on the receiver, they color case hardened it, a process in which you heat the steel in a carbon rich, oxygen starved environment and then immediately quench in water. It creates unique color combinations depending upon the carbon source and the minerals you have dissolved in the water.

When I got my hands on the rifle it was not particularly pretty. The receiver looked very dull, but you could see the case hardening hiding under a thin layer of oxidation so I disassembled the rifle slathered the receiver with heavy oil then carefully went to work with #0000 steel wool, craft paper, and a copper penny. After a couple hours I was satisfied that I had removed most of the corrosion (better to polish too little than too much) so I wiped it down. It looked good, and I was happy, but then I took it out into the sunlight.

Wow, in daylight the colors just light up and make this a really pretty rifle!

There’s a little bit of oxidation still left on there, but the colors are still bright and more importantly it looks ‘right’ for an old rifle. With a light coat of oil this can stay looking pretty for a long time to come.

The bore has a little bit of corrosion in spots, but the rifling is still good, so as long as you give it a good cleaning from time to time it will shoot just fine. I took it to the range for a brief workout and found that standing, unsupported (no sling) I was able to group inside of ¾” at 11 yards so I would say this rifle is capable of killing tin cans all day!

I’ll be donating this to the Gun Blogger Rendvous raffle, so the only way to get your hands on it is to buy raffle tickets. Better still, the proceeds from the raffle go to Project Valour IT, so regardless of how much you win, you’ll still go home knowing you’ve helped a good cause.

So fill out your registration and make your travel plans. You need to get to Reno!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Results are in

 This has nothing to do with anything, but Snoopy and the flying doghouse cracked me up. 
 Now where was I?

Right.  We had several submissions this month, all of them in .22 LR, So thankfully people have at least a little ammo out there. (I've been informed that the local range is no longer limiting sales to 'range only' so that's encouraging.)

 In class 1, Rimfire Iron sights, the rundown goes like this

Mike B                       S&W 617 Revolver (22LR) Iron sights                   180
Billl Ruger                   Mk I Iron Sights                                                   130
Pat B                          S&W 617 (22LR) Iron sights                                 120
SCSon                        Ruger Single Six Score                                           90
Engineering Johnson     Browning SA-22 Takedown Iron sights                   90
SCSon                        Ruger 22/45 (Iron Sights)                                       40
Danno                         Ruger Single Six                                                    30
Danno                         Ruger 22/45 (Iron Sights)                                      30

 I'm pretty impressed with the scores in the triple digits on this one. Personally I find with iron sights it was tricky to figure out the exact location than more than the lower two aircraft, however the target did blur into a near vertical line in my case which made it easy to shoot five quick shots from top to bottom.

 In class 2, Rimfire Optic sights, the winners are...
Mr. Completely         High Standard w/ OKO Red Dot                             260
True Blue Sam           Ruger Mk III 1.4x scope                                        170
True Blue Sam           Ruger Mk III Red Dot                                            130
True Blue Sam           Ruger 10/22 Red Dot                                            130
Engineering Johnson   Ruger 10/22 3x scope                                          130
Mrs.True Blue Sam    Ruger Mk III Red Dot                                              60
Billl                            Remington Nylon 66 (scoped)                                50

 I'd say Mr. C is the big winner on this one and some of the hits he made on this target made it look easy!

 When I was putting together this target I found that a 3 power scope and a fair bit of patience pretty much assured a hit on one of the smaller planes, so that's why I encouraged people to at least try to shoot this quickly. I didn't end up timing myself (the range frowns on cameras) but I did enjoy shooting this by jostling the line holding my target just before each string. It really forced me to touch off my shots quickly.

 As for Timed entries, I received a few comments about a 3 or 4 second string being impractical. I also received a timed entry from Mr. C. Once again, he used his Hi Standard to shoot a target scoring 140 (one hit on all of the top four planes) which is a good target, but the really impressive bit is that his string time was 2.46 seconds.

 Once you've picked your jaws up off the floor, why don't you join me in congratulating Mr. Completely as the "Ace of Aces"

Friday, July 05, 2013

E-Postal Deadline

I've received several targets for this month's e-postal contest. 
I know several of you have taken a long seekend thanks to the holiday, so I've held off posting results.

If you can get your targets in by Sunday night I'll include you in the results.

Friday, May 31, 2013

June E-Postal: Twelve O'Clock High!

I think I'll start off this month's e-postal with a bit of humor.

An English pastor once had the tradition of saying a special prayer on the Sunday before Remembrance Day each year, and after the prayer he would ask if there were any former servicemen in the congregation and invite them to speak for a few minutes. A World War II fighter pilot stood up and reminisced about his war experiences.

"In 1942," he says, "the situation was really tough. The Germans had a very strong air force. I remember," he continues, "one day I was protecting the bombers and suddenly, out of the clouds, these fokkers appeared." There are a few gasps from the parishioners, and several of the children begin to giggle. "I looked up, and realized that two of the fokkers were directly above me. I aimed at the first one and shot him down. By then, though, the other fokker was right on my tail."

At this point, several of the elderly ladies of the church are practically swooning, the girls are all giggling and the boys are laughing out loud. The pastor finally stands up and says,

"I think I should point out that 'Fokker' was the name of a German-Dutch aircraft company, one which made many of the fighter planes used by the Axis powers during the war."

"Yes, that's true," says the old pilot, "but these fokkers were flying Messerschmitts."

Why am I bringing this up? Because I'm giving this month's contest an aerial combat theme.

The target has five outlines of the Messerschmitt BF-109 fighter aircraft each larger than the next. German fighter pilots learned early on that attacking a formation from behind exposed them a hailstorm of machine gun fire, but by attacking head on they minimized the time they had to spend in the sights of the gunners.

You are in the nose of a B17 and you spot a BF 109 headed your way. He has a wingspan of about 34 feet and is traveling about 380 mph towards you. You are cruising at 200 mph so your combined closing rate is a whopping 580 mph. That means that it only takes about 6 seconds to go from a mile apart to impact! Now this target has silhouettes ranging from about 3" to 8" wingspan (I'm approximating, don't bother measuring) meaning that if you are a distance of 11 yards from this target, the little I mean Messerschmitt is only 5 seconds away, and the big one is less than 2 seconds away! Think you can hit all of them in 3 seconds?


Targets are to be shot standing unsupported with the firearm of your choice.
Distance to target should be 11 yards (33 ft) or as close to this as practical at your range.
Each target is to be shot in two strings of five for a total of 10 shots.  Begin each string at the top and fire one shot at each aircraft proceeding downward.  There is no time limit, but remember he's closing fast!
Scoring a hit on the small aircraft is worth 50 points.  A hit on the largest aircraft is worth 10 points.  The scores for the other aircraft are proportional, with a maximum of two hits allowable on each aircraft.  This should give a total possible score of 300 points.  I think you'll find however that it's challenging enough that scores shouldn't be terribly high and even a few hits are worth sending in.  (If you get no hits at all, you'll still have the option of folding the target into an airplane, lighting it on fire and watch it spiral downwards. 

There are five different classes
1.  Rimfire firearms with iron sights
2.  Rimfire firearms with optics
3.  Centerfire calibers with Iron sights
4.  Centerfire calibers with optics
5.  Flying Circus Class

Flying what? 

Here's where I'd like you to have a little extra fun with things.  If you want to do something different (i.e. break the rules) just mark it class 5 and tell me what you did.  Scoring will be the same except there will be a bonus (positive or negative) that is entirely at my discretion and probably unfair.  If it amuses me I'll post it and probably give you points for instance:
Shooting the target from an airplane: +300 points. 
The airplane is on the ground: -50 points. 
It's not a real airplane: -50points
It's a kiddie ride in front of Walmart: -100 points
You didn't have any quarters: -100 points
You convinced the store manager to put in a shooting gallery: +100 points
and so on.

On a more serious note, I would like to encourage anyone with a timer to challenge themselves by timing their strings (starting on target) and seeing if they can hit anything in the brief window a nose gunner would have had.  It'll give you a new respect for what went on in the skies over Europe.

Remember to print your target at 100% scale (not 'fit to page' ) and submit it any time between now and June 30.  I should have results ready by the time the fireworks start going off.

Now, test your guns and call 'em out as you see 'em.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Five years ago

It was almost summer in the city and cool air settled over darkened streets. Blue flickers of lightning punctuated the night, reaching out from a near silent storm creeping over the lake. Blogosphere was a different place back then. Tweeting was something you expected a bird to do. Facebook actually had more real people than digital imposters; real people who had only started to sense the sinister forces at work in their community. Blogger? Well there were a few would-be professional writers trying to get their start, hoping to some day run a forum, get advertises, maybe even sell a little merchandising for their own brand. Most of them flashed in and out of existence like the lightning from that night’s storm.

There she was. There was something different about her as she navigated through the throngs of wannabes. She had a knack for making you notice her, but never giving you a closer look; always turning to keep her face from the spotlight. She built a following, but not the sort that follows cute kittens and comments copied from the latest hollywood gossip rags. No, she wanted more from life than the momentary high of all to brief internet fame. She needed something more permanent...a partner in grime.

 Happy blogiversary!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Notes from the workbench

Spring is in full swing here and the weekends are full of the sounds of the season…lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, circular saws, hammers, paint sprayers, and cordless drills. It seems like all of suburbia is turning out to work on home improvement projects, and nowhere is that more clear than the hardware stores.

I found myself in one of the big box stores over the weekend (I think it was the green one, but it might as well have been the blue one or the orange one.) Mad-house doesn’t even begin to capture the scene. There were no unused carts to be found in the store when I arrived. They were all being filled with garden tools, laws spreaders, 2x4s and power tools. Watching people pile prepackaged tool sets into their carts reminded me of something I read in an old book.

 Back in 1924 Henry Saylor wrote a book called “Tinkering with Tools,” and in it he attempted to describe a proper home shop workbench.
My envy is all too frequently aroused by those marvelously equipped cabinet benches that the hardware store displays as its center of interest in the holiday window. Folding doors are thrown back, bristling with tools of every conceivable kind; the top lid is raised to display supplementary racks of more tools; drawers and cupboards of such an arsenal must be an inspiration sufficient to keep the home craftsman aware from meals, sleep, and family life, while he creates masterpieces in wood. Strangely enough, I have never known a man who possesses one. Perhaps the man does not live who dares buy one and face the responsibility it seems to entail. He would be left absolutely without an alibi for the neglect of anything that henceforth needed attention in the household.
Mr. Saylor may have been poking fun at the hardware stores and their attempts to commercialize the amateur craftsman, but I suspect he’s dangerously close to a sore spot. Take a close look around and I bet you’ll find any number of houses with dripping faucets, drooping cabinet doors, stuck windows, dead electrical outlets, and all of the tools needed to fix these things idle in the garage.

There are some people in the world who have access to a fraction of the tools being wheeled out of box stores and yet they work wonders with mechanical systems most people could only gawk at. I know of one gentleman in particular who spent many years in a little factory on the equator. If you wanted something fixed you asked Mr. Mac, and he would get out a toolbox about two feet long and less than a foot in the other two directions. It was full of simple tools, many of them modified for specific purposes. Trimmed down wrenches, home built hammers, hand whittled pry bars made up to fit odd angles and tight spaces all rested amongst an assortment of well worn sturdy hand tools. Regardless of what you needed done, he would go to that toolbox and find exactly the tool he needed for the job.

Many of us could take a lesson from Mr. Mac and his toolbox. I know I have a backlog of repairs to make around the house. I also have enough tools in the basement and garage to keep me from having any excuses.

There’s the normal assortment of wrenches, hammers, and pry bars. Most are pretty generic, people have forgotten that a pipe wrench is really a Stillson wrench. The pry bar apparently has a name too, but I think whoever came up with it was either from Germany or else he moonlighted thinking up undergarment names for women’s clothing.

Of course I have a small assortment of soldering irons, guns, and torches, but this little beauty tops them all.


Resistance soldering units are a bit like the butt welders of the soldering world.  They pass current through the joint to be soldered and the resistance creates very localized heat to melt the solder.  That all works very well on paper, but if you don’t get the contact-switch on-smoke-switch off-release sequence right you can easily go from soldering to spark eroding. 

Of course the lathe and the milling machine are great tools, but don’t forget the distant cousin the die filer.  Well this one is actually a bench-top filer.  My parents managed to nab this at an auction several years ago, which is very neat since you seldom see these anymore.  What do you need this for if you can do the filing by hand?  Well unless you have a wire EDM machine in your basement, this is one of the best options you have for making a square hole.  (Can you say falling block?!)

And then there’s the shop-smith.  My grandfather picked this up for a fraction of the original cost and put it to use for several years.  These are solid machines with simple mechanisms and few weak points.  Even better, you can still get spare parts, and plenty of online help for rebuilding them.  

Some serious woodworkers might scoff at multi-machine systems like this but they’ve probably never been able to roll a table saw, woodlathe, shaper, sander and drill press around their garage with just one hand!

Really though, the most important tools I have aren’t in the garage or the basement shop.


A little knowledge and some ingenuity go a long way towards accomplishing things whether or not you have the tools you want. These books are full of tips and tricks that you can apply to all kinds of situations, and once you start thinking a bit sideways about how to do things it’s easy to improvise.

There was one time in a factory (in the middle of nowhere) when a well meaning mechanic broke off a pipe fitting in the end of a large manifold. He and some of the other mechanics tried desperately to remove it so they could get machine running again. I asked them where to find an easy-out and was, not surprisingly, met with blanks looks. I watched not-so-patiently while they attacked the broken bit of fitting with vise grips, small grinders, files, hammers, and punches. As they wore themselves out, my patience wore thinner until I finally I started digging through the toolbox (note the singular noun) at our disposal. I didn’t find much of use, but I did manage to come up with a wrench, a hammer, and a square piece of aluminum. I coaxed the mechanics out of the way and then proceeded to drive the aluminum bar into the fitting. Once that was done I put the wrench on the bar, gave it a twist, and out came the remainder of the fitting. I showed it to the mechanics and walked off while they stared at me as though I were from another planet.

That bit of a broken fitting is the only souvenir I brought back from that trip.  It rests on the shelf with some other keepsakes, reminding me of how much can be done despite limited resources.