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.