Archive for the ‘Tools & Gadgets’ Category

Monkey Wrench

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

monkey wrench miniThis little five-inch wrench is a bit of a rare thing, a true monkey wrench,  not to be confused with a pipe wrench. It’s one of those odds and ends I of course do not need and never will, yet it has too much of a presence for me to discard it.

I may eventually incorporate it into a sculpture (thanks James) but the wrench is such a beautiful object as itself that would almost be sacrilege.

Pin Dry

Monday, August 31st, 2009

praying hands clothespinA few years ago my housemate at the time returned from a trip to India with a present for me—a bag of colored plastic clothespins in the shape of hands praying. Not your typical gift, I must have mentioned to him once or twice how much I like to hang my laundry out to dry.

The clothespins from India were not so sturdy, suited more to a sari, or tourists, than a pair of dungarees. The yellow one here on top of my classic wooden clothespins might just be the last of the batch.

When my partner Stephanie moved in, she was initially reluctant to do the clothesline thing. She claimed the drier made towels fluffier. It also took a few tries to remember that you can only hang stuff on the bottom line.

For a long time one end of the clothesline was attached to the house and the other to a portable basketball hoop bequeathed to me by the previous homeowner. Despite the base being filled with cement, it had to be weighted with stones and tied to a fence to keep from being yanked over by the wet clothes. My plan was to eventually replace it with an old iron building column I had dragged into the backyard for that purpose.

In the meantime, Steph planted a garden, and did not want a portable basketball hoop in it. I had a standing offer from my next-door neighbor Sue to attach my line to the telephone pole in her yard. The pole held not only her clothesline but those of two other neighbors, whose lines came in over the back fence, a real neighborly setup that was once common. I was reluctant because my line would be over her backyard air space for almost 50 percent of the run.

Finally, realizing the iron column plan would take extensive engineering, I did take advantage of her generous offer, if only temporarily. As soon as the baby comes I plan to build a professional quality rig to handle the extra volume.


Clothespins and Guinness don’t mix.

Depressing fact: In California, about seven million people can’t hang their clothes in public because of the policies of about 40,000 community associations.

Here are some paintings of clotheslines.

Dandelion Killer

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

dandelion puller toolIf a 49-year-old man had hair like the lawn in my friend Liz’s backyard, it might provoke a fleeting moment of  envy in other 49-year-old men who perhaps did not have such a freakishly thick, immoderately healthy growth on their own heads.

But we’re talking about lawns. And Liz, who is not only a talented interior designer but is the type of gardener who knows the Latin names for every plant under her domain, has a nice lawn. And one early evening in midsummer my partner Steph and I were relaxing on this fulsome sward with Liz, her husband Tom and daughter Edie.

Stephanie adores a nice English lawn. I’m more open to biodiversity, and to her dismay our tiny front and back patches are not at the moment populated strictly with grasses. She ran a hand through the uniform mat of dark green, densely growing blades, remarking on the lack of a single dandelion.

Liz immediately and enthusiastically attributed this utter absence of the offending taraxacum officinale to the brutal effectiveness of her dandelion digger, a tool she claimed was almost impossible to find these days, new or vintage.

The very next day, without a word about it between us, Stephanie went out and found one with a green rubberized handle at the garden center, and I got this one with the wooden handle at a garage sale. Later when we discovered our parallel quests to  straightaway hunt down this allegedly elusive object, we had a good laugh. I guess you could say we’re on the same page, just using different adjectives.

Despite the presence of two deadly dandelion diggers in the shed, the weeds continue to sprout and spread with impunity. My theory is we intuitively realized, in tandem, the futility of unsheathing a high-powered rifle when carpet bombing is the order of the day.


Monday, August 24th, 2009

ball bearing with packagingAfter I had been into cycling for a while, I treated myself to a fancy titanium frame. It cost two grand back in about 1991. I bought it from Tom Kellog’s Spectrum Cycles, one of the first builders to work extensively with titanium.

I remember Tom, whose phone voice sounds like the gravelly incantations of Tom Carvel in the old Carvel commercials, almost insisting that I get the frame in the57cm size. But getting the smallest frame possible is the racer’s mantra, and this was particularly the case at that time, so I was as equally insistent on a 55cm. Tom was right, the frame was a little small for me right from day one. These days I believe a little bigger is better, and I ride  a 57-59cm frame.

A quirk particular to the first titanium Spectrums was the bottom bracket. Titanium is more difficult to work with than steel or aluminum, and most frame builders at the time did not have the machinery necessary to fabricate anything too complex with titanium. Tubesets in this material were also limited. So rather than having a standard bottom bracket shell, tapped to accept a standard bottom bracket, the first titanium frames had a smaller bb, made from the standard tubeset. The frame came with a bottom bracket axle and a set of sealed bearings.  Also included were two specially machined chunks of aluminum used to press the bearings into the untapped shell to the correct depth, some Locktite, and a multi-page instruction booklet bound in plastic spirals.

Those bearings were somewhere in the back of my mind when I picked up this ball bearing at the estate sale I was running last week. What was in my mind regarding the rest, I cannot pinpoint as easily for you. The full take:

  • 1 set Leviton easy grip plugs in white, original price 95 cents
  • 1 set GE quick wire attachment plugs, from Caldor, original price $1.49
  • 1 red DYMO 1717 label maker, without tape
  • 7 3″ oversized safety pins, good for kilts
  • 1 Evansrule key caddy (made in U.S.A.)
  • 1 2″ barely useable blue plastic shoe horn compliments Cosentini Inc, Ithaca, NY
  • 3 hose clamps (installed a new radiator on my van this summer, now I’m a mechanic)
  • 1 roll unopened electric tape
  • Some weird gear thing, which I will feature another day, and
  • 1 bearing in a box from the Ahlberg Bearing Co., Chicago, Illinois

Writing all this down is embarrassing, but hopefully it’s the first step in recovering from whatever it is that posesses a man to take posession of any of this in the first place. I mean seriously and for crying out loud. Dammit.

Of course now that I have it all, it’s not so easy to dispose of. I suppose I could donate the kilt pins to the fire department’s bagpipe brigade, and I’ll throw out the shoe horn the next time I find myself dressing in a suit and I actually attempt to use it. The replacement cord plugs I have long-term plans for.  (One word: lamps.)

There is not now, nor I suspect will there ever be, a reason for me to own this ball bearing. But how can you throw away such a well-made thing? And one with such thoughtful packaging? The corners are reinforced with metal tabs, and one side flap contains the warning Do not open this box until ready to use. Now, this is not some impersonal, lawyer-mandated safety warning from a cold and uncaring corporation.  It’s more like a stern reminder from a concerned uncle. They don’t want you losing it, or messing it up.

There are traces of the Ahlberg Bearing Co.’s existence floating on the web—an old unissued stock certificate here, a postcard there. And it appears the company may not have actually made bearings, but reconditioned them. Can you imagine? Reconditioning a small moving part? That’s green. A cursory google search turns up hints of a former executive who went out on his own just after WWII, convinced that the real money was in making, not reconditioning, ball bearings. And now I am the current owner of this Master Bearing, The Highest Development of Correct Ball Bearing Engineering. It is a heavy burden, friend.

Unlocking Heaven

Monday, August 17th, 2009

church key can and bottle openerThis combination can piercer bottle opener is also called a church key, possibly somewhat ironically. You don’t see these around much any more. I bought a pair at a yard sale still attached to the original cardboard packaging. I’m not sure where the other one is. I have a few bottle openers, but nothing else with the can piercing end.

The church key reminds me of my grandfather. Like most everybody else in those days, my grandparents had a few of these in a kitchen drawer. It was used to open the cans of Ballantine Ale and A&P soda in the refrigerator at their house on Holly Avenue in Queens.

Beer was first canned in 1935, and a church key was required for drinking back then. Although the flip top came along by 1959, in 1967 there were still plenty of cans without one, including Ballantine Ale and A&P soda.  (Cans for the storage of food have been around since 1810, but the can opener was not invented until 50 years later. Prior to that, hammers, knives and rocks were some of the tools used to get at the goods.  In my book, a church key or can piercer can properly be called a can opener too, and that’s what I call it.)

Putting beer in a can doesn’t make much sense unless you have a convenient way to keep it nicely chilled. My grandfather went back and forth between calling the refrigerator the frigidaire and the ice box. Frigidaire was the first modern refrigerator. General Motors made them. A great name, Frigidaire. Even if yours wasn’t a General Motors Frigidaire, you called your refrigerator a frigidaire, later mostly shortened to fridge. I think my grandparents had a Philco at the time. It had a big lever handle that you pulled down toward you to open. It made a clunk sound when you did this.

Every morning my grandmother went to the kitchen and got a couple of eggs and beat them into a glass of milk, and left it in the ice box for my grandfather. She also poured him half a cup of black coffee before making herself a pot of tea and a soft-boiled egg with toast. He would come down and drink the egg in milk and fill the rest of his coffee cup with cold water and drink that.

I know a few other things about my grandfather. He wore a fedora whenever he went out. He thought you went bald by slicking your hair with water to comb it. He gave me my first script handwriting lessons. He liked to sit on the couch, which was encased in thick clear plastic for its entire existence, and watch baseball games and Ballantine ads on the black and white tv while reading Louis L’Amour westerns and smoking Chesterfield non filter cigarettes. He sometimes drank too much Johnny Walker Red. Once when he was in his late 60s or maybe early 70s he beat up a cop. Lucky for him his son-in-law at the time was an officer of the New York Police Department.

But the church key makes me think of my grandfather and beer cans and eggnog in the frigidaire, and long baseball games on tv and jets flying over my grandparents’ house on Holly Avenue in Flushing, Queens. These days I use my church key to open Welch’s grape juice cans. Tip: never carry one in your pocket.

Quick helpful fact: Frigidaire and fridge have a letter d but refrigerator does not.

Best  refrigerated poem.