Wednesday, April 26, 2017

#MyMakerYear: TIG Welding

                      At a TIG welding class at TechShop San Jose

Welcome to another edition of #MyMakerYear by DIYBIKING.COM. Brought to you by Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

(Turns to Camera B with a Smile)

Cherry Hill. A jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing in town form.

(Turns back to Camera A)

How is your bike joined together?

That depends on where it is made and who made it. In the UK, when I toured Brompton's headquarters, I saw the beauty of brazing (and you'll see it too if you buy a Brompton folding bike). All of my welding that you've seen me do for this site - including the folding cargo bike I made from old bike frames last year - is MIG welded (Janet Lafleur made this video last year on Bike to Work Day).

But when I bought a cargo bike business (which will be seen at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival May 7th) I discovered all of the bikes are TIG welded.

I didn't even know what the 'T' stood for. Here's a handy answer key if you forgot too:



Also, while we are on initials: KGB stands for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Benopasnosti but it is easier to say "Committee for State Security" in English.

But back to welding.

Modern MIG welding works by attaching a metal clamp to your work and touching it with metal attached to your gun. The metal is fed from a spool of wire in your machine which allows you to weld for very long periods - all with using just one hand if you wish.

TIG welding, as I quickly found out, works differently. You still attach a metal clamp to your work but instead of a gun, you have a special thing that resembles a really fat fountain pen attached to an unwieldy umbilical cord. An electrode made of tungsten* sticks out of it. You put the electrode close to your work without touching it, activate the welder with your foot and use your other hand (which you of course don't need to hold your work in place or do something important) to feed the wire into the arc - and thus join two metals together.

At a TIG welding class at TechShop San Jose 

After I learned this I wondered why anyone would TIG weld when they could MIG. 

But about ten seconds after I learned this, I found out why. I remember putting on my welding mask and watching Alex demonstrate how to build a cargo bike. Instead of smoke and white-hot sparks that can set fire to the papers piled on the surface of your MIG welding instructor's desk** there were almost no sparks and - this part was particularly eerie - very little noise. Just a brief sizzle as the arc started up and then a very bright light (which I learned later, can give you a sunburn if you don't cover all exposed skin).

Also instead of a weld that, as is often the case for me, looks like a semi-smushed metal caterpillar, you can more easily get a weld that looks like this.

Admit it: if this weld was on Tinder, you'd swipe right. 

But I didn't get that result right away. Practice came in two stages: the first was about an hour spent in Alex's workshop in Santa Cruz (thank you, Alex).

At that time I had a small pile of identical steel scraps I could practice with and try to weld together the exact same way so I could focus on technique, amperage and other variables. I also had a tiny piece of whiteboard that I used to write down what I had done so I could take pictures like this:

Welding while sitting down isn't something I did much - if at all - when MIG welding since my shop never had a table large enough to weld on and I was constantly repositioning myself to make sure the sparks or smoke would blast directly into me. But this is where TIG shows a quirk (you pretty much have to be sitting in order to use the foot pedal) and its value: without a ton of smoke and none of the violent sparks associated with MIG you can actually see more of what is happening with your work. You can see the arc melt the steel, you can finesse where the puddle of molten steel goes, you can control the speed you add the filler (since you're doing it with your other hand).

As I practiced I upped or dropped the amperage, used a short electrode, messed around with the amount of argon gas flowing, accidentally touched the tip of the electrode to the work (that is a no-no), dragged the electrode toward me or away from me, and so on. And I kept a record of it with my little whiteboard - always starting with a number at top (as in, the number of times I had welded the same two pieces of metal together).

After my hour at Alex's shop, I took advantage of my membership at TechShop San Jose (which recently reopened after their move) and reserved a TIG welder to continue practice. A box of the steel pieces and my little whiteboard came for the ride.

As you can see, Attempt #28 was a real bust. 

The mini white board technique did help me become more self aware as I worked. At the end of the day, the attitude of the person doing the welding is an important variable that I missed the first couple dozen times. When I flipped up my mask on Attempt #34, I realized I was the problem because I wasn't being patient.

I was clearly overdue for a long bike ride or a yoga class.

I went through it again. And again. And again. Weld, write, adjust, repeat. 

I began thinking of the poor woman from the X-Files episode Monday who tries to change the outcome of a horrible day she is reliving over and over. I could hear the words she desperately said to Mulder: "Until we get it right." 

Until we get it right.

By Attempt #44 I had begun to isolate what things were leading to good results, and I was sticking with them. 

Eventually, I ran out of those little steel pieces. I figured out how to hold the TIG gun and move it more smoothly. And other things too - like being patient. 

I've done more TIG since and have begun making cargo bike frame number three (you can see the first Box Bike by DIYBIKING.COM frame - which was welded by Alex - at the Silicon Valley Bike Festival on May 7th).

Before I forget another interesting thing about TIG i
s you can weld stainless steel together. So for practice I welded some old brake rotors. It made a pretty cool candle holder. 

So that's TIG welding. If you want to learn how to do it I recommend the classes TechShop San Jose offers or look for their other locations and just get as much practice as you can until you get it right. Failing that, strong. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*Tungsten is used because it has a ridiculously high melting point of 6,192 Fahrenheit. Also the symbol for tungsten is a W - you can see it go by in the extended opening credits for 'Breaking Bad' when Anna Gunn's name goes by. 

**That really happened at the welding class I took in January 2014 at the Silvermine Art Center in Connecticut. The instructor was really cool about it but kept his papers in his desk from then on. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thoughts on Yoga

Be the Change Yoga & Wellness in downtown San Jose

(3 minutes before yoga class)

I can't believe this #%&@! 

Of all of the things they could have discontinued they have to pick the one part that'll mess everything up! Another whole day is going to be wasted chasing down a replacement!
Okay, I'm here. breathe in. 
Did I meet her the last class? 
If so I can't remember her name.
I'll just smile and say hello. 
Okay I got the mat. 
Who is she?
She's kinda cute but did she have to put her mat in my usual spot by the wall?
I like that wall.
Okay. There's another wall. I'll use that one. 
I'll put my mat down here.
(Slides mat)
Is it far enough from the wall so I don't hit it when I put my arms out to a T but close enough for me to grab it if I lose my balance in the tree pose? 
(Sits down)
The instructor just shut the door. Okay. ready to start. 
"We'll begin in a seated position."
Way ahead of you.
"Close your eyes."
(Eyes close)
Can't believe the damn thing has been discontinued and I gotta do the round peg square hole thing again. 
Breathe in. 
Why that part?! When did building a bike turn into a Jimmy Kimmel prank?! 
Breathe out. 

(15 minutes into yoga class)

"Go to downward dog."

Okay here we go.
I need to make a list of T-shirts that won't collapse into my face when I'm in this position. 
My Cranksgiving San Jose shirt is good. 
I'll wear that next time.
Left wrist is bothering me again. 
Well that passed.
I can't see anything.
Wait. those are the instructor's feet.
She's adjusting my position.
Don't knock me over.
Don't knock me over.
Whew. Okay. 
At least that wasn't a deep adjustment.
Maybe I'm getting better at this. 

(30 minutes into yoga class)

"Make a shelf for your knees."
The weird headstandy thing.
"Bring your feet off the floor."
I can do this. 
What would Yoda do?
Concentrate. Feel the force. 
Pretend Yoda is standing on your feet and you're levitating R2-D2.
My feet are off the floor!
It's working!
Thinking of Yoda. 
Be the force.
Oh shoot - now I'm thinking of Seagulls! (Stop it Now)
Crap. This is no time to chuckle.
I'm losing my balance! I'm going to fall forward!
Feet back on the ground.
That would have been embarassing. 
Try it again anyway. 
Feet off the ground. 
Still unstable.
Yoda would shake his head with disapproval. 
Never mind.
"Go to your plank pose. Top of your push up."
Damn left wrist. 

(Last 3 minutes of yoga class)

We're laying down already?

Okay. I might fall asleep.
One of these days I am going to fall asleep in this class
Either that or I gotta use a less comfortable mat. 
"Give yourself a big hug."
You heard her. 
Do it.
"Come up to seated. Bring your hands to heart center."
I can do that. No problem.

"We'll seal the class with one 'Om.'"
Sounds good. 
Deep breath.
"The light in me bows to the light in you. Namaste."
Thank you.
(getting up)
That was really only an hour?

(30 minutes after leaving yoga class)

Okay. Where was I? 

Oh, right. the part that was discontinued. 
I think I can use this to replace it.
That'll work.
Why didn't I think of that before?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Maker Year: Building A Bicycle Wheel

Welcome back to another installment of #MyMakerYear by DIYBIKING.COM. Brought to you by Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

(Turns to Camera B with a Jon Stewart-like smile)

Cherry Hill. Because putting pedestrians in front of a firing squad is illegal.

    Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 2017

(Turns back to Camera A)

Back when I had the money to buy expensive tools before knowing how to use them, I purchased a shop grade truing stand from Park Tool. For years the words: "Clockwise to loosen/Counter-clockwise to tighten" were written on a piece of paper and taped to it so I wouldn't forget.

I am pretty good at truing wheels if certain questions are answered. Is the truing stand at a comfortable height? Is the room completely quiet except for the Mythbusters, Justified or Firefly episode playing on the DVD player? Am I wearing comfortable shoes? Is there coffee in a Back to the Future mug within arms reach?

And so on. 

If I'm go-for-launch I can straighten every bent bicycle wheel I put in my stand except for the ones I can't. But until very recently, I've never made a wheel one spoke at a time. It's always been a mystery to me. My cousin - the Mountain Bike Jedi Master himself - never had a chance to teach me when I lived in Connecticut. And I never took a class or watched anyone make one. 

Then I bought a small cargo bike company and discovered - after I knew I wanted to buy the business - that the wheels are made. At that point I realized this needed to be a skill I should pick up.
I know this is a picture of the bike bell I made from my late grandfather's old typewriter, but the pattern your wheel makes on the pavement is what I want you to look at. 

If you're near your bike look at one of the wheels. It's pretty to look at. But look at one spoke near the rim and follow it down to the hub. Notice that the spoke on either side is facing the opposite direction. And each spoke is screwed into a special nut - called the nipple - in the hole in the rim. 

All the years I've spent around bikes I never really forced myself to look at a bike wheel to see the pattern. But that wasn't all I did. I engaged in Google searches and flipped through books. I watch some YouTube videos. I got a rim with 36 holes, a hub with 36 holes, 36 spokes and 40 nipples - just in case I dropped some. Also a tiny brush so I could put a bit of of oil on the treads of each spoke. 

Finally, I decided I was ready. I sat on the couch of my living room and did the first step in making a wheel: I placed the rim on my lap and, holding the hub, I dropped a set through every other hole in the top of the hub and put one spoke into the hole just to the left of the valve hole. Then I put each subsequent spoke into every fourth hole.

I then flipped the wheel over and dropped in a new set. Then I inserted each one; starting at a hole near the first set and, again, counting every fourth hole. 

When done with this step, I dropped the third set into the rim and, spreading the spokes with my hand, flipped the wheel over in one daft* move.

As I worked I felt myself hitting a peaceful zone. Spoke, nipple, twist, repeat. I began to wonder what all the fuss was about and realized I was going to...oh wait. I did something wrong.

I was well into the fourth and final set when I realized what had happened: I wasn't crossing the spokes underneath which was why they were bowing out awkwardly. I didn't know where I went wrong. I disassembled the entire wheel and started again. 

This time, I paid more attention to what I was doing until I finally got a wheel that looked the way it should.

But something unfortunate happened: I didn't know where I went right, so I took the wheel apart once again.

I was more determined than ever to finish a wheel before nightfall. I just needed to get into The Zone again with the confidence I was doing the job proper. 

Then my wife came home and reminded me she was heading to a friend's house for a "Drink and Draw" - this is apparently when sketchers get together and do taxes while eating Skittles if I understand the title right. 

At the tail end of a busy week, she wasn't sure she'd stay long and wanted me to come with her. Even though I was once again living the occasional unfortunate byproduct of having one car between us I decided not to let it get in the way of my evening plans. I told her I was bringing wheels to build during the evening. I've seen women in my family knit in social settings. This seemed no different. 

And that is how I, on a recent Friday night, wound up sitting in a chair in a stranger's home, with a plastic toy aircraft carrier at my feet, building a wheel while several women before me drank wine, chatted, and sketched. It was like being on the set of The View but with more sketching and fewer commercial breaks.

While I was busying myself with my craft, my wife as well as the other women sketched anything that was lying around the kitchen: spatulas, wine bottles, vases of flowers - things like that. None of them brought their husbands - probably because they didn't realize a wheel build lesson would be involved. 

I went through the build steps again and slipped up again: I crossed a set of spokes the wrong way. I took it all apart and, in doing so, wound up spilling my tiny plastic box of nipples into a child's toy bin. I gathered as many of them as I could find - reasoning that the children whose house this is were big enough not to consider these things choking hazards.

Finally, I managed to get all four steps right.

It looked like a wheel. I spun it in my hands - it turned like a wheel too (even though I obviously still needed to put it through its paces in the truing stand).

I looked at my watch. It was just after 9:00pm. My wife had mentioned to me earlier that she didn't think she'd stay long but when I glanced up she seemed to still be sketching with extreme energy. 

So I built another wheel. This one went together faster but the clock pushed past 10:00pm. One of the sketchers had left for the evening. Did my wife want to leave too? I avoided eye contact at the moment as I wanted to get the second wheel done.

And I did.

With two wheels ready for the truing stand (which I did not bring) I proudly showed the ladies at the table what I had done. I couldn't tell if they were amused, impressed or both - but it was clear I'd be welcome back to the table again.

I've built more wheels since - and I do have the equivalent of "Clockwise to loosen/Counter-clockwise to tighten" saved on my phone to make sure I get everything right. The truing step still has some demands but all building a wheel needs is materials and a lap. I recommend you study how to build a bicycle wheel and, if a sketcher is present, allow yourself to be sketched. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

           Me building a wheel Friday, March 24, 2017. Sketched by the artist Suma CM

*It is supposed to be 'deft.' It is a typo but if you watched me do this the first time it could go either way