Hands On


Way back in the 60’s, when I was in high school, you had to choose what stream you wanted to follow.  One directed you in courses that readied the student for college or university and the other led to technical skills necessary to get a “hands-on” job.

I took the former which meant that I was “protected” from shop or auto mechanics or anything that would get my hands dirty.  I never went on after HS and instead immediately started working in a warehouse (much to my parents’ disappointment).  The only subject that I can truly say helped me was typing.  Turns out it’s pretty good preparation for a job that involves sitting at a keyboard all day.  I never thought it would come to anything – banging on old manual Underwood typewriters was boring but a great time waster.

So here I am nearly 30 years later and I now find myself working at the Toronto Aerospace Museum as a volunteer and guess what my first project requires?  Working knowledge of machine tools.  Oops.

I’m building a set of free standing display panels and this involves creating the stands from scratch.  So far, I’ve cut stainless steel with a chop saw and now I’m working at fabricating 200+ brackets to hold the stands together.  In keeping with the museum’s theme, the brackets started out with sheets of aircraft aluminum.  These went through a foot-operated shear cutter followed by a trip through a very scary bandsaw and hand finished on a grinder.  I spent a few hours there yesterday and grabbed a few photos of the process.

(click any of the pictures for a larger image)


First, a shot of the before and after status.  The raw aluminum is coated with a primer to protect it from scratching while handling.  My coworker spent hours laying out the cut lines and I then took them to the shear cutter.

bracket2No idea how old this cutter is but I heard it came from the Bombardier plant across the airport from the museum.  The only power this machine gets is from the weight of the operator.  You carefully line the piece up, jump on the footboard and your cut is made.  It actually works extremely well and gives a very clean cut.



Once all the brackets were cut into triangles, it was off to the bandsaw to do the rough shaping.  I created this little tool to allow me to shape 6 brackets at once while keeping my fingers reasonably far away from the sharp bits.  The saw scares the crap out of me.  It rumbles as it starts and I find it a little uncomfortable standing really close to sharp steel teeth rotating at high speed.  Again, this machine is quite old.

bracket5The final step (so far) is to take the individual brackets to a bench grinder to – more or less – round off the corners.  The more I do, the better I’m getting.

I probably have another 2-3 hours work until I complete this step.  After that, I need to remove the primer using acetone and then start assembling the stands.  Each stand will have a sheet of plywood covered with velcro fabric.