It would appear that one of my favorite things to do is to take on long and involved restoration and organization projects - a tendency that has brought rewards which are ambiguous at best. Right now I’m working on a 1940s Walker Turner drill press - a nice heavy tool, and my first ever floor standing drill press. It’s also my first time repainting an old machine tool, which has forced me to wear a proper respirator right at the moments when I was finally free of the social need to do so.
Intellectually, I believe that an unused tool should be thought of as a talisman at best. A tool must directly exhibit utility; a thing can’t really be a drill press if it’s not making holes. In this sense, my incomplete restoration project must at the moment be seen as destructive, and it seems right to say that a repair should be assumed to be a liability until proven otherwise.
I suppose the question, then, is what we gain from liabilities like the drill press I’m now working on. My own excitement for them is admittedly romantic (I also recently spent some time gazing fondly at a Tektronix 453 that I’m planning on tearing down), but I have to believe that there are justifications that go beyond a desire to reduce my own consumption and increase my time spent elbow deep in degreaser.
Separately: Thanks to all the guest writers who gave me my longest break ever since starting this newsletter almost seven years ago! And I'm glad to be back with you all :)
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~17% of opens) was on the science behind Nike Vaporflys. In the paid subscriber Slack this week, preparation for our reading group on Marc Levinson's The Box and a long thread on the contexts in which hardware products "need very high gross margin."
Planning & Strategy.
- Servant leadership is a management philosophy “in which the main goal of the leader is to serve” rather than to direct their employees in service of business goals.
- The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship is a new program, modeled after the Brooke Owens Fellowship, that aims to promote Black undergrads pursuing careers in aerospace engineering.
- A good explanation of survivorship bias, explained through a World War II program aimed at improving the armor on airplanes.
- A collection of hardware engineering interview questions.
Making & Manufacturing.
- A quick video of a super clever solution to flipping a pair of pantyhose inside out so that their toes can be sewn.
- Apple has apparently booked all of TSMC’s 5 nm production capacity through the end of the year. “Ten years ago, companies such as AMD, Nvidia, and Intel were typically the first manufacturers to deploy on leading-edge nodes...Now, it’s the mobile manufacturers like Apple and Qualcomm that typically take the first launches.”
- Exothermic or thermite welding is a process, widely used to join railroad tracks, in which powdered metal (typically aluminum) and powdered metal oxide (typically iron rust) are combined and then ignited, producing “a white hot mass of molten iron” that then flows between the two working pieces to create a welded joint. There are umpteen videos of thermite welding being used in both professional and decidedly nonprofessional contexts, but I found this one from TU Delft’s railway engineering department to be the most educational.
- A quick video of plastic drums being extrusion blow molded.
- A company called Carnot claims that they can build an air compressor that will deliver >15 CFM at >100 PSI while operating at less than 70 dB, all while leaving the compressed air cool, oil-free, and dehumidified. The science behind this - which is kind of like putting seltzer in a centrifuge - is totally new to me, and based on something called a trompe.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Metal stitching is a method of repairing broken or cracked parts, especially cast iron ones, that can be performed in the field with hand tools. Lock-N-Stitch Inc. seems to be the biggest player in metal stitching. Their product videos show a series of holes being drilled and tapped right along the crack, with threaded inserts being installed so that the crack is essentially filled with new material. Then “locks” are installed across the crack, binding its two sides together so that they can’t spread apart.
- A report by the US Forest Service on chainsaw lubrication, which argues that vegetable oils are safer and apparently just as effective as petroleum-based lubricants. “Chainsaw users that are working in environmentally sensitive areas should use these environmentally compatible oils instead of conventional petroleum-based chain-and-bar oil.” Related: A sawyer is a person who saws wood.
- Venice’s new flood barrier, MOSE, was deployed for the first time ever. The project’s homepage has some good background info, and their multimedia page has construction photos and engineering drawings of both the main project and the charmingly named Baby Mose.
Distribution & Logistics.
- NASA patented a new method of transferring from geosynchronous transfer orbit to lunar orbit; i.e. a new route to the moon.
- A very nerdy Twitter thread on the fundamental law of gearing, which demands that the angular velocity ratio of the two gears should remain constant throughout the gear mesh.
- A convincingly critical take on frequent flier programs. “United [Airlines] estimates the value of its MileagePlus program at $21.9 billion. Over in the stock market, the value of the entire airline — its so-called market capitalization — is only about half of that figure.”
- To pour paint out of the can without dripping it everywhere, form a makeshift spout out of two pieces of masking tape.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- A short video showing the rather dramatic effects of tiny temperature differentials on a precision straightedge; by warming the straightedge for just a few seconds with your hand, you can change the way that it rests (and “hinges”) on an inspection plate. Related, a moderately technical video guide to wringing together gage blocks - a process that (per Wikipedia) creates bonds that withstand up to a 300 N pull.
- Hardware hacker finds replacement illuminated pushbutton switches for a Sequential Circuits Prophet 2002, which was used as a prop in a pivotal scene from the 1992 movie Sneakers.
- Core77 reviews Apple’s proprietary face mask.
- “Pemmican is a mixture of tallow, dried meat and dried berries used as a nutritious food. Historically, it was an important part of indigenous cuisine in certain parts of North America, and is still prepared today.”
- The Duck curve is a graph that ostensibly looks like a duck and describes “the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production.” Grid-scale and personal energy storage systems attempt, you could say, to flatten the duck curve.
- Tim Wu on NYC’s commercial real estate market, and the forces that incentivize landlords *not* to reduce rents.