Archive for November, 2011


So this is part 2 of how I perform LCD II home anodizing in my garage. If you missed part 1 you can view it here.  In part 1 I had dealt with surface preperation and cleaning. Part 2 will demonstrate the remaining steps 3,4 and 5 which will finish the parts off with anodizing, dyeing, and sealing. Enjoy!

3. Anodizing

This is the step that everyone wants to hear about. If you have decided to skip over reading steps 1 and 2 that I posted yesterday then I would like to reiterate a previous statement of which I said “if you spend 5 minutes completing a project then it will look like you spent 5 minutes completing the project”. However I also said that this is not an instruction guide so let’s move on shall we?

I buy my distilled water in 20 liter box form for $7 a box. To set up the anodizing line, plus the dyes, it take a lot of water. I have gone through over 150 liters by now.

The basic physics that surround anodizing are fairly simple. You take your aluminum part and suspend it in a bath of sulphuric acid and then run electric current through it. There is lots of information out the internet that explains all of this if you care to research it further. The set up I use is based on a 5 gallon plastic pail. Although my set up is small it is easily expandable into larger containers to accommodate larger projects. My 5 gallon bucket has a mixture of battery acid and distilled water in it. I mix the solution 3 parts water to 1 part battery acid (by volume). I struggled with this ratio initially however I have since located documentation which helped me dial it down to the 3:1 ratio. As I previously stated this post is not and instruction booklet and that there are certain safety precautions to be taken. Right now is the only warning I am going to give. AAA = ALWAYS ADD ACID! When mixing a sulphuric acid solution you never pour the acid into the bucket first and then add water. ALWAYS pour the water in first and then add the acid.

The battery acid is purchased in 5 gallon boxes. The acid lasts a long time as long as I am careful not to contaminate my ano tank.

 With the acid in the bucket I now needed a cathode. A cathode is a metal electrical conductor that will be hooked up to the negative side of the power supply. When anodizing the 2 most popular types of cathodes are lead or aluminum. I opted to build a couple of cathodes out of 6061 aluminum sheets and then gave them a bend to help them hug the sides of my bucket. The size of the cathode is I important. It needs to have at least the same square inch area as the part is that I am anodizing. As far as I know a cathode size in excess of the anodized part is not a factor.

The cathode plates I made from 6061 aluminum and welded on some tabs to be able to wire the negative connection of my power supply to. The brass wing nuts make for quick and easy electrical connections.

 Now comes the anode which is the metal electrical conductor that is hooked up to the positive side of the power supply. The anode is the part that I am anodizing. The anode needs to be suspended in the sulphuric acid solution. To do this a wire needs to somehow be attached to the part. I have been using up my 4043 aluminum TIG welding filler rods to do perform the task. I need to ensure I have good contact between the filler rod and my part in order to obtain a good flow of electricity. I usually end up bending the filler rod to gain a certain thickness and then I force it into a threaded hole of the part. Every situation requires some ingenuity.

These are the parts all cleaned and ready to be immersed into the ano tank. The purpose of this picture is to demonstrate how I wedge my aluminum hanging wires into the parts to ensure I have a good electrical connection.

 There are many different ways to build racks for the anodizing tanks. Mine is not great however I will spare you the details. Improvements can be made with experience. My aluminum 6061 cathode plates are placed into the bucket of sulphuric acid and the negative side of my power supply is wired to them. I then hang my anode (the part I am anodizing) to the rack that sits on my bucket and connect the positive side of my power supply to it.

This is my first rack I built to fit onto a 5 gallon bucket. It is made from 6061 aluminum. The wing nuts allow me to make my positive connection from the power supply. The 4 tabs with holes in them allow me to slide my agitation lines into them. The round rod to hang the parts from is not ideal, my plans are to change this to a better system.

 At this point we need to take a slight detour however this is a good detour. The following information is what spares newcomers from massive amounts of frustration and failure. It has to do with figuring out how much current to run through your bath and for how long. Again I feel like I need to reiterate that this is how I anodize, there are other ways however I know, from first hand experience, that this way works. I use what is called the 720 rule. The rule goes like this. It takes 720 minutes at 1 ASF (amp per square foot) to anodize a part with a 1 mil (.001”) thickness. Now if you are like me I was thinking that I had to run my part in the solution for 12 hours. No you don’t and this is why. This home type system uses LCD (low current density); I am not going to explain this as it is irrelevant. What this means is that I am going to use 6 ASF to base all my calculations from. Why 6 ASF? Again…at this point it is irrelevant for this post, email me if you really need to know. All I will say is that 6 ASF proves to work well for Type II anodizing. So on with the math. If we anodize with 6 ASF to obtain 1 mil thickness then based on the 720 rule we only need to anodize for 720/6=120minutes. That’s right 2 hours. Can you cut that time down? Yes however your thickness will not achieve the desired 1 mil. Who cares if it isn’t 1 mil? 1 mil creates deeper pores which allows for the colored dye to soak in and produces better colored results. Are you still with me? Good let’s keep going. Next step in the calculation is where I need to know how much surface area is on the part I am anodizing. The 720 rule is based on 1 square foot of surface area. If I want to anodize a flat piece of 6061 aluminum that is 2” x  4” x .125” thick I need to add up the surface areas of all 6 sides. I won’t perform the math in front of you however the total surface area of all 6 sides is 17.5 square inches or .122 square feet. Since we require 6 ASF per 1 square foot this would equate to requiring .73 amps of current (6ASF x .122 sq ft) for .122 sq ft. So there you have it. What I need to walk away with at this point is that I am going to anodize my sample part for 2 hours at a Constant Current (CC) of .73 amps for 120 minutes to obtain 1 mil (.001”) of thickness. If you can’t, or do not want to, comprehend this then go to this handy online calculator that will do the math for you. You can even run my sample numbers in it to double check my work.

In the case of my demonstration trigger and receiver I calculated out the total square inch surface area to be 31.58 sq. in. which results in a target current flow of 1.32 amps for 2 hours in order to achieve a 1 mil anodized coating.

This is my power supply set up. The power supply is capable of delivering 50 amps. Most of my parts are so small that I am unable to dial the current in using the power supplies ammeter as it is not accurate in the low end of the scale. I use a multimeter wired in series to allow for accurate control of the current. The box on top that houses 2 light switches simply allows me to bypass the meter quickly.

 So let’s get back to the anodizing. I have my part suspended in my bath, my wires hooked up and I am ready to flick the power on. But wait…what exactly am I powering up? Yes you need a power source. I use an ASTRON VS-50M 15 volt 50 amp DC power supply that I was able to pick up used. Some people use manual battery charger and some use car batteries. I cannot comment on these methods. Using a controllable power supply allows me to abide by the 720 rule. If you haven’t already done the math you will note that a 50 amp power supply limits me to anodizing a part no larger the approximately 8 square feet (720 that one). On my power supply I always max my voltage and allow it run where it wants. The power supply is capable of providing 15 volts and typically runs around the 13 volt mark. It is the current I limit. Since the ammeter on the power supply is not accurate enough for me to dial in small current I simply install my DVOM in series with my positive wire which allows me to control the currently accurately while I monitor it with my meter.

This is the ano tank with the parts suspended and ready to go. You can see the cathode and anode connections. I add a couple of extra jumper wies just to ensure I have a good electrical connection to my parts. The red lines are my agitation lines. You can also see the 150 watt aquarium heater that I use to bring the ano bath up to temperature.

 So there you have it. The anodizing process is under way. I have set my timer for 2 hours and things are starting to bubble. Since it is now a waiting game I will take this moment to mention a few things that relate to the anodizing tank. First one is temperature. I anodize with my sulphuric acid temperature at 72 degrees F. If the mixture is a bit cold from sitting in the garage I have a 150 watt aquarium heater that I use to bring the temperature up. I should note that the anodizing process creates heat and why wouldn’t it? If you think about it and you anodize a part that is 8 square feet it would require 48 amps of current for 2 hours. That’s a lot of current which will start to create a lot of heat. You need to keep the heat under control. Some set-ups use ice and others use cooling towers. In my case I use nothing because all my parts are so small that the temperature in the bucket only ever rises a few degrees. When only using a few amps to anodize the heat is not a factor.

This picture is nothing more then demonstrating what temperature I anodize at. As the 2 hour process progresses the heat in the tank rises. Because my parts are small the increase in heat is not a factor.

 Next thing to bring up is the agitation. I have read that some people use aquarium pumps to agitate the sulphuric acid bath while the part anodizes. I figured I have a huge tank of compressed air sitting in the corner so I wasn’t going to waste my money on a pump. I took some ¼” plastic air hose, the stuff used for pneumatic cylinders, and created my own set of 4 air jets. I hooked them up to a regulator and have myself a very low pressure, low volume agitation system. Do I need to agitate? I don’t know I just do. I believe there are many others that do not.

I tee into my shop compressed air system to provide the air agitation in the ano tank. I regulate the pressure way down and then fine tune the volume using a 1/4" ball valve. My shop air is fairly clean and therefore I do not think using it will contaminate my tank.

Here you can see the air agitation at work. I do not know if the anodizing process will suffer any without agitation however I get results from using it so I will continue to do so.

While we wait for the part to anodize I thought I would mention that anodizing stinks. If you have ever smelled a sulfated car battery then you will know what I am talking about. I have a ventilation fan in my garage that I run. I am not sure I would ever anodize in my house. Apparently there are products available that eliminate the odor however I have no experience with them.

As the parts anodize you will start to see the aluminum part change color along with the wire it is suspended from. The part goes from a shiny metal to more of a dull grey. This is good. If it doesn’t it is possible that the part has a bad electrical connection.

Throughout the 2 hours of anodizing I occasionally check the amperage and tweak my current to ensure that I maintain the calculated current required.

So 2 hours has passed and this is where all the hard work starts to pay off. This is also where the fun comes in. After 2 hours of the part sitting in the bucket having electrons forced through it it can now be taken out and rinsed with distilled water from the spray bottle. And that is it! The anodizing process is complete. From here the part can either be dyed and sealed or just sealed.

Here are the anodized parts after 2 hours of sitting in the ano tank. I have rinsed them off with distilled water at this point. They both have slight color change to them. Take note of the color on the aluminum hanging wires. This is a sure sign that the electrical connection was good.

4. Dyeing

These are some business card sized color samples that I made previously. I use them to reference to. I labelled each sample with the amount of time they spent in the dye tank. In the case of the trigger and receiver Jason requested Electric Blue for the receiver and Green SCG for the trigger.

I keep all my dyes in 10 liter plastic jugs.

The dye process is quick, easy, and highly satisfying. At this point the pores in the anodized part are opened right up ready to suck in whatever dye color you choose. The process I use involves the same kettle I used in the SP Degreasing process that I outlined in part 1. I dye all my parts in a colored solution heated to 140 degrees F. DO NOT heat the dye too hot as the pores in the part will begin to seal and the dye will not take. Once I have brought my dye temperature up to 140 degrees F I pour it into a suitably sized plastic container and then suspend the part into it. The maximum amount of time a part can stay in dye is 15 minutes. After 15 minutes the part will no longer take on any more color and all you are doing is wasting time. However 15 minutes is the maximum were as there is no minimum. Dyes will color to a different shade depending on how long the part is submersed in it. I have found that with my darker colors like the browns, grays, and dark blues they benefit from only 2 -4 minutes otherwise they get too dark. The reds, greens, and brighter blues work nicely in the 8 minutes range where as the violets, yellows and oranges can handle the full 15. It comes down to experience and the shade of color I am trying to achieve. That is all there is to the dyeing process. It is over fairly quickly.

Once again I use my 1500 watt electric kettle to heat my dye to 140 deg F. I then pour the dye into a suitable sized container to suspend my part into. The dyes are all reuseable.

Here you can see how quickly the dye gets soaked up. The trigger is already a nice shade of green after only 1 minute.

I shot the following video while I dyed the Electric Blue receiver. The video is meant to show how dye time affects shade. I’m not sure the footage captures the affects all that well, it is what it is. The video is just a bit over 2 minutes long. The first minute shows the effects every 15 seconds, the last minute shows clips of the remianing 5 minutes.

Here is a picture of the Electric Blue receiver after having soaked for 6 minutes in the dye tank. It is still a bit wet after being rinsed with distilled water.

Here is a picture of the trigger after spending 6 minutes in the Green SCG tank.

5. Sealing

 Sealing of the part is the final step to the anodizing process. Sealing closes up the pores created by the anodizing process and locks the dye in. The process is pretty straight forward. I suspend the part into a pot of boiling water for ½ hour. That’s it. After half an hour the pores are shut and the dye is locked in. I take the parts out of the boiling water and straight to a white polishing cloth and not a spec of color is evident on the cloth.

This a portable hot plate and dedicated Stainless Steel pot I use for the sealing process.

Here the anodized and dyed parts are suspended in boiling water for 30 minutes. I choose not to use distilled water for the sealing process.

So here is the final product aftering surface prepping, cleaning, anodizing, dyeing, and sealing.


When I first started to set up for anodizing I had read through the process and realized that part of the challenge was to collect all the equipment you need to do it. There are places on the web that will sell you complete start up packages that include everything you need. One of these places is Caswell Inc. and they have 2 warehouses located in both the US and Canada. If you check out their site you will be able to find the complete kits and supplies you may need. I am not going to give Caswell Canada top praise as I have run into minor issues with them however they have always provided me the supplies I have ordered in a timely manner therefore I can’t really complain. I will continue to use them.

I did not start with a complete kit instead I opted to piece mine together my way. There are not a lot of “hard to find” items that you need. The following is a quick run down of my equipment;

  1. Battery Acid; purchased from a local automotive parts supplier in a 20L box for around $28 (I think)
  2. Power supply; my Astron VS-50M was found online used. I paid approximately $180 including shipping and had it sent to me from the other side of the country.
  3. Dyes; $13 per color purchased from Caswell Canada. The dye comes in 4 oz bottles in the form of a concentrate. 1 bottle is added to 2 gallons of distilled water. Dye lasts a long time and can be used over and over.
  4. Distilled water; purchased from an industrial supplier and bought in 20l box quantities for around $7. I go through a lot of distilled water when initially setting up my tank and dyes. I must have used over 150 liters by now.
  5. SP degreaser; purchased from Caswell Canada for $26. It comes in powder form that gets mixed into distilled water. 2lbs worth will make 4 gallons
  6. Aluminum de-oxidizer and de-smut; $23 for 1 quart from Caswell. 1 quart gets combined with 2 gallons of distilled water.
  7. Heater for my anodizing tank; $35 for a 150 watt aquarium heater purchased from a local pet supply store
  8. Aluminum hanging wire; not sure of the price on this one. Aluminum wire can be had from any welding supply store. I use TIG filler rod however the wire can also be had in spools for MIG welders. Not a lot of money
  9. Cathode; like I said earlier either 6061 aluminum or lead can be used. I used 6061 that was picked up from my local metal supplier. More then enough cost me around $25. Lead sheets (used for roofing?) can apparently be had at your local hardware store, again, unsure of the cost.
  10. 1500 watt kettle; $10 on sale from any place that sells home small appliances.
  11. Electric hot plate; $25 from a small appliance store
  12. Other items like plastic containers, digital timer, thermometer, spray bottle, dish soap, scrub pads, etc, can all be sourced locally.

I think that is it for supplies however I am sure I have missed something. If you want clarification then send me a message.

Some people dedicate a certain area to set up their anodizing line. This has a huge benefit off being able to work more quickly and in a more organized manor. I have to prioritize what equipment takes up my space and right now anodizing is not at the top of that list. My whole set up is portable and all the equipment gets stored in a plastic bin and kept on a shelf in the garage. The only portion of the entire set up I keep in my basement are the dyes simply because I have space there to sacrifice.

And there you have it. My methods fully exposed. My fingers hurt from typing all this. I need a break…I’ll be in the garage.


There were some questions raised awhile back concerning home anodizing and exactly how it is accomplished. I thought I would share my procedures (good and bad) and show how I have been able to achieve, what I would consider to be, successful Type II home anodizing.

However before I begin I think I need to say the following (I think because I don’t really know). It’s the almighty disclaimer. What I am claiming to dis is I am not a professional and I try things at home. Anodizing involves certain chemicals that can cause good things to go BAD…namely you. Sulphuric acid is used in the anodizing process and as we all know acid can be BAD. I do not want BAD things to happen. So please note the following. This blog posting is not a step by step guide. This blog posting is simply showing how I do my anodizing. I am not going to litter the posting with safety information. Gloves, safety glasses, and respirators are all no brainers. If you don’t know when to use these things then please turn your tools in at the door and find a comfy seat in front of the television. Now on with the show.

These are a set of sport bike race stand spools that I machined for a friend and then anodized.

The type of anodizing I do in my garage is known as Type II, Low Current Density (LCD) , Controlled Current (CC) anodizing. I am not going to explain all this since this is not an instruction guide. There is lots of information out there that can assist in defining the process. If you have specific questions then send them my way, I will do my best to answer them. I will, however, clarify one misconception. Anodizing does not give a piece of metal a cool funky color. The color comes from the dying process after the part has been anodized. Anodizing is the process of building up the exterior layer of oxide on aluminum in order to give it a more durable finish. When the part is anodized this oxide layer is comprised of many small pores. It is these pores that are what absorbs the dye color in the dying phase. The dye provides no benefit other then looks.

Different types of metal can be anodized however the most common home anodizing deals with aluminum. In my case it revolves mostly around 6061 grade. The process can be broken down into 5 stages and they are;

  1. Surface preparation
  2. Cleaning of the part
  3. Anodizing
  4. Dyeing
  5. Sealing

I will attempt to address each step and try to explain how I deal with the challenges of each stage.  As a demostration piece I am going to use a rubber band gun reciever and trigger mechanism that are fabricated from 6061 aluminum. A cyber friend of mine, Jason, sent me one of the trigger assemblies that he engineered, designed, and built to fit into a custom wooden stock to create a dual action rubber band rifle. Very cool set up and mechanism. If you are interested in learning more about Jason’s project you should check out his blog. He has lots of pictures, drawings, and explainations.

1. Surface preparation

This is the trigger and receiver assembly that Jason sent me. The purpose of this picture is to demonstrate the finish I was starting with.

Anodizing hides nothing; I mean nothing (ok maybe it hides a little bit). It is best to assume that any surface imperfections that were present before anodizing will be visible afterwards. Anodizing is not like paint, powder coating, or chroming where the surface gets covered with a different material. Any scratches, nicks, or gouges will be visible afterwards. Therefore part preparation is crucial in order to achieve satisfactory results. In my case I am still experimenting with surface preparation. Some of my aluminum is finished with a 400 grit brushed finish, sometimes it is sandblasted (careful with the blasting, there are things to consider when anodizing blasted parts) and sometimes I polish the part. I have found my best success has come from polishing. Success being defined as the colored dye really “pops” on the polished parts. Since most of my anodizing involves parts I machine on my lathe I use the following to obtain my desired surface prep.

When I am not using my lathe to spin the part while I buff it I am using a 1/2 hp 8 inch buffing motor bolted to my drill press.

  1. With the part mounted in the lathe and spun at 1620rpm I sand with 100 grit sandpaper
  2. Then I move to 220 grit
  3. Step it up to 320 grit
  4. Move onto a fine grade aluminum oxide Scotchbrite pad
  5. 0000 grade steel wool
  6. Then I remove the part from the lathe and put it through some buffing wheel abuse starting with a 8” sisal wheel lathered with black buffing compound
  7. Onto the spiral wheel with a brown compound bar
  8. And I finalize it with a loose buffing wheel coupled with white compound

By this time the part has a mirror finish and any more surface prep would be a waste of time

This is showing the 3 differnt buffing wheels I use along with the compund I use on each wheel. I dedicate wheels to only one compound so that I prevent any cross contamination.

This is the surface prepped trigger and receiver after I performed 3 stage polishing on them. Almost too pretty to anodize at this point.

2. Cleaning of the part

The first 2 stages of the cleaning process is done with acetone first and then the parts gets a good wipe down using wax/grease/oil remover (acetone based).

In my uneducated opinion I would say that out of all the stages to anodizing the cleaning phase is the most crucial. The cleaning process will determine the success of how well the part will dye to the desired color. The parts can have NO grease, oil, wax, or buffing compound on them. There are multiple ways to ensure the part is clean. Again I am going to tell you how I do it, there are other options. The process starts by using a clean cloth and wiping the entire part down with acetone to take the initial grime off. Next I move onto a professional body shop wax/grease/oil remover solution. I use another clean cloth and, again, wipe down the entire part.

This is the SP Degreaser in powder form. The stuff I order is 2 lbs. worth which is enough for 4 gallons of distilled water. The package states to heat to 190 deg F however I find that 160 deg F works.

Now it’s time to start the serious cleaning. I use a product called SP Cleaner/Degreaser. It is a biodegradable product that is used in cleaning food processing equipment. I heat the cleaner to 160 degrees F and then submerge the part in it for 5 minutes. It’s now time for me to peek inside the back door of the house and perform a quick visual to see if the wife is anywhere in sight. No? Good! Now I take the part and quickly move to the kitchen sink. It is here where the next phase of cleaning takes place. I need to move fast because the wife could be lurking and end up silently standing behind me while I contaminate her kitchen with  my “disgusting garage dirt”. It is here where a pair of nitrile gloves are put on and then washed with hot soapy water. It is at this point where the part no longer gets touched with ungloved hands. I use dishwashing soap and a nylon brush (and sometimes a toothbrush) to scrub and scrub the part. After cleaning with dishwashing liquid the part then needs to pass the water break test.

Because many of the parts I work with are fairly small I am able to work using just a 1500watt electric kettle. Here I heat the SP Degreaser to 160 deg F and suspend the part in it for 5 minutes. I keep the used degreaser and just pour it back into my jug. The sediment that has been cleaned from the part is visible at the bottom of the kettle.

The water break test is a test which involves holding the part underneath a stream of water and inspecting how the water runs off the surface. If you have ever washed a newly waxed car you will notice that the water beads. Waxed car = beaded water, this is good. Cleaned anodizing part = beaded water, this is BAD! The water needs to cover the part in almost a mirror type finish; it needs to flow off the part in one continuous sheet. This is the indication that the part is free from wax, oil, and grease. This is good.

Here I head into the house to clean the parts with dishwashing soap and hot water. At this point I put on a pair of nitrile gloves and wash them first with soap and water. I scrub until the parts pass the water break test. After this cleaning stage the parts never get touched with bare hands. Only things that come into contact with them are gloves and clean aluminum hanging wire.

If you have choosen to clean parts in the house and have been caught by the wife in the kitchen then you are probably in one of two positions. First one is she is mad and kicks you into the garage cause she thinks that is punishment in which case give me a cyber high five. The second case is she now makes you do all the things you should have been doing other then anodizing in which case I did warn you to scope the place out ahead of time. And no…there is not a 3rd option here cause there is no way she is happy.

I buy the De-ox and De-smut in liquid concentrate form and mix it with distilled water.

So now that I am back in the garage I sprits the part down with distilled water from a spray bottle I keep close by. The part now gets dunked into a container filled with aluminum de-oxidizer/de-smut solution. The part gets a 5 minute soaking in the bath at 72 degrees F. Oxidation is known as rust on ferrous metals. In the case of aluminum it too oxidizes however its absence of iron makes the “rust” harder to see. De-oxidizing the part in the solution helps minimize the oxidation layer on the aluminum. Some aluminum contains copper, silicone & magnesium which, when anodized, would produce smut therefore the de-smut solution helps rid the aluminum of these unwanted metals. The de-oxidizing and de-smutting is done at the same time in one chemical solution.

I pour my De-ox and De-smut into a clean container. I store the liquid inside the house therefore it has a temperature of around 72 deg F. I soak the parts at this temperature for 5 minutes.

It is at this point that I deem the part to be free from demons. I do not know if my cleaning process is under kill or overdone however I appear to be achieving success therefore there’s no need for change at this point. The process of prepping the part and cleaning it is by far the most time consuming aspect of the whole anodizing process however it pays off in the end. I often say that is you spend 5 minutes completing a project then it will look like you spent 5 minutes completing the project.

So this completes the first 2 processes of the anodizing procedure. To view the remaining steps you can check out The Full Monty: Part 2

I seem to have a never ending list of projects that I have agreed to complete for others. I enjoy helping out and I like the challenges that these projects present me with. However sometimes the projects get overwhelming and I find myself sacrificing my family responsibilities in exchange for getting these little jobs completed. I figured that if I am going to spend my time doing a job for anyone it should be for the wife.

Over seven years ago I had assisted my wife’s elderly grandmother in moving out of her apartment into an assisted living complex. This meant that many of her belonging needed to go elsewhere as there was little room in her new place. One of the items that needed to be disposed of was a suit valet that belonged to my wife’s grandfather. He had died many years earlier however his suit valet remained. When the decision came as to what was to become of it I was instructed to disassemble it and dispose of it, which is what I did. I know nothing about suit valets and I suspect the one I tossed was nothing special except for the fact that it belonged to my wife’s grandfather. In his working days he made a living as a family physician and used the suit valet to hang his suit jacket on everyday. How could I toss that out? Well I did except I kept one small part which was the coat hanger portion. The hanger was made of wood and was finished with stain. The hanger was worn in certain areas and polished smooth from years of use. It had both character and history attached to it. Anyway…I kept it and hid it for 7 years thinking that one day I will do something with it. Well it is my wife’s birthday coming up so I thought that this year was the year the hanger was coming out of hiding and something was going to be done with it.

So I actually spent months of frustrating brainstorming coming up with bad ideas as to what to build with the hanger. I suspect my wife shares the similar trait that her grandfather had in that she picks out her clothes the night before. So I figured what better use for his hanger than to incorporate it into a suit valet for his granddaughter. So this is the basis for the build.

Typically suit valets take up floor space and are more tailored towards men. Well I decided to make a wall mount female version of the valet. I wanted to blend together something that represented both my wife and her grandfather into one. I had the hanger; that was the easy part. I needed to build something that would actually be allowed to live in the house, this is not easy. I took my wife’s love for yoga and decided create a Lotus flower theme coupled with the hanger to fabricate a valet that would be worthy of wife’s approval. For those who may not understand the yoga and lotus flower connection you can read about it here I started to read the article however my attention span is too short to support an article without any pictures of shiny metal.

The plan was to plasma cut all the individual Lotus flower leaves out of a stainless steel sheet. Mount them so they are suspended off the backing plate and then pretty the whole thing up with some stainless steel accents. The wooden hanger was originally mounted on the suit valet from the bottom side. The top of the hanger, the part where the hook typically goes, was clean and untouched therefore I wanted it to remain so. A hook needed to be fabricated and wrapped around to the top of the hanger from the underside. Finally a second hook would be required to rest the hanger on.

I started with a picture of a lotus flower enlarged to the proper size. I laid it on my stainless steel plate and used a Xacto knife to cut out each flower. The knife left a scribe line in the stainless that allowed me to free hand plasma cut out each individual leaf. With each leaf cut out time was spent at both belt sanders to clean up all the edges.

The stainless leaves were then assembled to form a template for the backing plate. Once I had a rough shape created I plasma cut the 1/8” mild steel backing plate and cleaned up its edges. I had picked up some 1/8” 304 SS solid rod that I thought would work well as accent pieces. I created some supports to hold the rods and TIG’d them onto the backing plate.

Something you need to understand about my wife is that she knows colors. If something doesn’t match then you had better look out. I would have to run for an umbrella because it would rain stress and anxiety. I went through 4 different shades of brown until I found, what I think, was the matching shade. This was the riskiest part of the whole project. The paint I used was a textured spray bomb that left a sandy and gritty type finish.

At this point all the leaves had .400” spacers glued to the backsides using windshield urethane. The leaves were then urethaned onto the backing plate. Now that I had something concrete I was working with I was able to manipulate the SS 1/8” rods into some “greenery” to give the whole project some contrast and balance.

Onto the hanger. Don’t know what to do. I started cutting things, bending things, welding things. Then I started to throw lots of those things in the garbage. I finally stayed simple and trimmed a section of stainless steel sheet out that got wrapped to the underside of the hanger. I then bent 5/16” SS round bar to use as the hook portion. It wasn’t overbearing or obtrusive. I think it worked out well.

The hook for the hanger needed to also fall into the simplistic category. I spun out a peg on the lathe using 6061 aluminum and then put it trough a 4 stage polishing finish.

So there you have it. Garage time well spent, I think. Her birthday had come and gone and the “valet” has found its new home on the wall next to the closet. She has put it into service and and small part of her grandfather lives on.

I like tools! There I said it. Is it a problem? Not in my eyes. There are a lot of worse things out in the world to be addicted to. Tools are harmless. Tools are what the world was built with. Tools are shiny and fun to look at. Types of tools are endless. Without tools we would all be living in Play Doh houses and driving Plasticine cars running on cotton candy. So what’s the point of all this tool talk? It my way of easing into my admittance of my obsession with Vise-Grips.

These things rock. The man, William Petersen, who came up with the concept is a genius and should have a country named after him. I would like to live in that country perhaps in the county of 11SP. Why 11SP? Because the 11 inch swivel pad clamping Vise-Grip is the work horse of the group. When I die I want my coffin clamped shut will 11SPs so that when I am dug up 10000 years from now by a group of cyber archaeologists they will find my bones beneath a pile of Grips and my skull coated with a layer tool rust.

For now I will settle for singing some praise to the Irwin Vise-Grip line. I typically build on my own. I prefer working on my own since it allows me to stay focused. I find that when I am working with others everyone wants to put their 2 cents in on how the task should be accomplished. Now as good as others ideas are I still prefer to do things my way. What’s my points? I only have 2 hands. I wish I had more but I don’t. I have tried to get in touch with Steve Austin’s physicians to get some work done but apparently 6 million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. So until I can get a few of these Grips surgically attached to my limbs I’ll have to settle for manual usage. Being a lone builder the Vise-Grip has bailed me out time and time and time and time again.


Now I like the 11SP swivel pad set because it seems to be the most universal. I looked up the 11SP specs on the Irwin site and they state the clamping capacity is 3 3/8”. Excuse me? Has the guy that engineered this one actually tried using this in the real world or is the extent of his practical experience limited to his CAD 3D simulator? Okay…so it’s spec’d out at just under 3.5 inch clamp capacity but trust me the 11SP can handle a lot more then that. They seem to just “fit” everything. Now it would be a lie to say that all I own are 11SPs. I do have a few 4SPs and 6SPs in the family. Some with swivel pads and some without. I also have the typical curved jaw, straight jaw, and needle noise grips along with some specialty sheet metal units. I’m sucker when it comes to finding these things on sale.

So let me continue to rant with Gord’s top eleven (that’s right, 11) reasons why Vise-Grips are better then C-Clamps.

  1. They do not require 2 hands to clamp them.
  2. The swivel pad units do not twist when you are clamping things that aren’t quite square with one another.
  3. You do not have to budget half an hour to adjust them from minimum to maximum capacity.
  4. The swivel pads won’t fall off when they get clamped a little side ways.
  5. The Vise-Grip back bone won’t snap in half when you as a little too much from it.
  6. They do not have a bazillion threads exposed to the working elements which causes them to seize up.
  7. You can drive over them and they don’t care.
  8. The adjuster screw is never in the way (there is a reason C-Clamps need sliding pins on their handles).
  9. They have a trigger
  10. They’re guaranteed to conduct electricity
  11. When you squeeze them they clamp and don’t wiggle and creep all over the work until they are tight.

I could go on however the Irwin Tool Company doesn’t need me to help out with any endorsements. If you’ve used Vise-Grips you know what I am talking about. If you have used them and DON’T know what I am talking about then you are using them wrong. If you have never used them then buy them! If you don’t like them then send them to me, I could use a few more. (BTW…don’t buy knock offs, get the real deal) 

So I stepped back into the ring for round #2. My first go at the FJR1300 cruise control vacuum canister finished me off with some learned lessons. This time I took what was previously served up and planned on applying it towards total domination upon the canister creation.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about I had previously built an aluminum vacuum reservoir which had presented me with some challenges. The main one being getting all my welds to seal. On my second go I made some modifications mainly to the aluminum pre-weld prep.

I started off with a 4” length by .125” wall 6061 tubing and then sliced up a couple of solid 2” round bar chunks to be used as the canister ends. I machined a step into the ends, like I did on the previous canister, however this time I cut in a fairly deep and wide groove to allow for me to flow some aluminum filler into.

So with the canister prepped, the TIG dialed in, and the challenge accepted I laid down a couple of beads on both ends. Tossed the unit back onto the lathe and machined down the welds. Got a bucket of water and a hose filled with 120 psi of shop air I showed no mercy on the canister as I cranked the pressure into it. Ok…what’s wrong, where are the bubbles? Huh? Hmmm….I guess I can be learned. Looks like overcoming my fear of large weld grooves paid off. The aluminum filler flowed in great and I’ve got a submerged canister with contained pressure to prove it. First run of the welds sealed the unit up 100%. Now what? I had budgeted for issues.

So with success obtained early on I spent the rest of my time prettying the thing up. The ends got chamfered slightly and the whole unit was then polished to a shine. Sweet! Much more satisfying then my first go around. Since the canister is not required for install for a few months yet I opted to hang onto it and set it in front of my computer monitor so that I can stare longingly at it. Some day the two of us will have to part ways but until then I want to make every moment count.