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It Came from the Fab Shop: The MF’er of Invention


It Came from the Fab Shop: The MF’er of Invention

(By Loren Krussow) – A short while back I got to thinking it would be nice to get out my old ’70 El Camino and perhaps cruise it to the Big Bear BangShift get-together in June. I had parked it in a dusty corner a couple years ago after I began to hear a mild knocking sound coming under the hood, which was no surprise for a short-block rebuilt in 1987 with 20 years regular use on it since. Hoping there was nothing seriously wrong but believing I finally ought-to have a look, I slipped the motor out in a few hours on a Sunday and soon had it apart on a stand. Bad news; there were some spun bearings and the already-.020″-under forged 396 crankshaft was deeply grooved.

As hope faded for a quick fix, I figured on honing the cylinders while I was that far into it and continued the disassembly. Once I had the ten-year-old Crane cam and lifters laid out on a piece of plywood in their worn-in position so they could be reinstalled correctly, I got to thinking. This I’d been through before…those valvetrain parts will sit around neat and organized until some klutz (me) comes along and knocks the whole board over, it will all spill onto the floor in a jumbled-up mess, then there will be no real hope of using that cam and lifters again. Why not make a tray or shallow box with dividers in it so all the pieces could be stored in order, and with a cover so that they can sit on a shelf as long as need be without getting dirty?  That would at-least be a convenience, perhaps a necessity, and it could be re-used anytime I was involved with such a task.

I started on my project idea with some spare wood in the home workshop but soon decided it would be better in steel. I wrote down a few measurements and made a quick sketch, the next morning at work it took about an hour-and-a-half to make a handy organizer box out of galvanized sheet that will probably last me the rest of my life. If I live that long.

Having an idea and easily making it into reality is one of the fun parts of working around manufacturing. I sometimes work with other people’s ideas as well, I have made everything from the huge stainless art-deco light fixtures down at the local theater (cool) to a guy’s prototype coffee table that flipped over into a foot stool (what a disaster). Generally things start with an amateur inventor/designer’s verbal description, I make ’em produce a sketch then we work over construction details and progress into actual fabrication. It’s not a good way to earn a living, but it’s an interesting diversion if one has the time. Most inexperienced people hoping for some assistance are nice, smart, and grateful you’re willing to help them out. But then there is the other-type guy: He’s arrogant, he’s self-absorbed, he has no idea what he’s doing, and above all is super, ultra cheap. Bottom line: He just cannot (or should not) be worked with, a real MF. The MF’er of Invention.

Some people who have a new idea for a machine or device where specially-built parts will be required get to where they have only the most basic plan in their head then figure their job is done. They will skip engineering and attempt to describe the concept to a selected machinist or fabricator, telling a story which goes on and on as to what their device will do and how it will improve life, and expect that the workman will get the picture of how the thing is to be constructed. Metal-guy, meanwhile, who is accustomed to working from a dimensioned drawing of a developed item, is unlikely to understand or genuinely care about the concept, and sits there watching the clock tick as inventor-guy makes his wandering presentation. Our inventor doesn’t know what-type material he wants (“metal” is the frequent answer when questioned, accompanied by a quizzical expression), he doesn’t know how thick (“an eighth-inch” he’ll say after some thought and if you show him a piece of 1/16 he’ll say “yeah just like that”) or what any attachment means should be (“don’t you just weld it?”). He doesn’t have dimensions or tolerances worked out, nor does he understand why he should, and uses hand gestures to explain size. He does demand to know what it will cost. He hints at the fact he intends to patent it, and all involved will get rich from the production so if one were to offer to work for him for free now he would believe that was fair. At this point he wants to know how he should go about the patenting process. Everyone must promise him that they’ll never reveal his brilliant plan to anyone. “Ho-hum”, thinks metal-guy please go away and let me do my job.

If you ever do get such an idea and wish to have it made for you by a shop, please do! However, here are some basic pointers: Be nice. Know what you want, however hard that may be. Understand that money is what we all use to exchange effort, value and resources, so get some out when it’s appropriate. Also, I know that shop guys can be real boogers to work with themselves, yes it works both ways.

I didn’t get a fresh crank for my El Camino in time for the BangShift get-together, but my valvetrain parts are organized and when I made my cam/lifters/rockers tray I made two.  I’ll send the second one to the first person (regular member 20 posts, lower 48 U.S. states) who says they can use it.


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