Another day, another tool purchase

Of course, as anyone knows, you can't tinker without tools. Without the correct tool, any project other than the most simple task is doomed to failure, but only after a large amount of frustration and the eventual, inevitable destruction of a critical part or fastener.

A well-made tool is a beautiful thing, not just because of the innate beauty of a piece of carefully crafted precision machinery, but because it's a key to a physical lock, a man-made solution to a particular problem that has been honed by thousands of years of directed evolution.

There's something I've wanted for a very long time, and that's a set of Vernier calipers. Unfortunately, my lust for this particular instrument has been blunted by the fact that I really didn't need calipers, or a micrometer, or really any precision measuring instruments of that nature. I don't own a metal lathe, or a milling machine, although I'd dearly love to. As a renter, however, it's simply impractical to own pieces of machinery made of cast steel weighing hundreds of pounds.

Which sucks.

Still, I wanted to measure the inside of a seat tube, and do so accurately, and determine if there was any deformation of the tube. I'd also been finding myself wondering exactly how wide some wrench flats had been. I've bought the wrong size tool for a particular task twice now, and while given the number of tools I seem to be finding myself buying, that's not a bad ratio. Still, it's annoying as hell when it happens.

So, I had my justification.

Now, I'd like to direct your attention to a picture of two very different tools.

One is designed to transmit large amounts of force, the other no force at all. They are still both adjustable calipers, of a sort. They do have two things in common, though: they were both made in China, and they were both really inexpensive. They are also both well-made, high quality tools. The wrench was just under $15, the calipers $40, both at my local hardware chain: McLendons. Yeah, McLendons actually sells precision measuring instruments. Suck it, Home Depot. They have five or so different grades of Vernier calipers, ranging from a plastic $3 model, all the way up to this one (I do realize that's not very far up, but bear with me).

I'd love to buy tools made in the US, but those two tools pictured sourced locally would run over a hundred dollars. So, sorry, not on my budget. I bought that wrench with the sole purpose of removing fixed bottom bracket cups, and it works perfectly. There is no slop in the wrench movement, it's far more solid and precise than my other adjustable wrenches, some of which cost a great deal more. So, yes, you can remove a fixed cup with an adjustable wrench. Just be prepared to use a great deal more force than you think can possibly be transmitted through those tiny wrench flats, and keep the damn tool straight.

The calipers are fantastic. I expected them to be cheap, and crappy, but they aren't. The carrying case is vaguely plasticky (well, it is plastic, after all) but the calipers themselves are solid and heavy, and don't feel or look cheap in the least. The casing for the electronic module is cast alloy, instead of plastic. It even comes with a replacement battery. I'm impressed.


Oh yeah, Park makes a tool for removing bottom bracket cups, and it also costs $15. It's a piece of thin stamped steel. I'm not sure it would actually work as intended. There's probably some megabuck tool that shops use that I'm not aware of.

1 comment:

Kyla said...

Hello Inveterate Tinkerer!

I'm a graduate student at VCU (Richmond, VA). I’m in the process of collecting information for a project I’m doing on the resurgence of the Maker Movement. I came across your blog in my research, and I'd be so appreciative if you could take 5 minutes to complete a quick, anonymous survey I created.


For some context, this project is for my consumer culture class. I’m trying to get to know more about people whose hobbies revolve around technology – from computers to electronics, and from hacking to tinkering. While I’m out in San Fran for a summer internship, I’ve been spending some time with the people over at the Noisebridge Hackerspace. They’ve given me some great material to work with, but this survey will help me get a broader idea of what’s going on in the rest of the country.

Thank you so much!