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Good tools are important!

metric caliper
Metric dial caliper.

This report covers:

  • Now BB
  • However
  • BB uses calipers
  • Denny knows a few things
  • Vessel screwdrivers
  • Long-bladed screwdrivers
  • Cordless Dremel tool
  • Surprise, surprise

Well sometimes the daily topic bites me in my behind and refuses to let go until I acknowledge it. We’re gonna talk about tools today — good tools!

Reader ProfSteelToe said, “Michael,
… I bought a left handed tape measure a couple of years ago. I’ve been a left handed carpenter using right-handed tape measures upside down and backwards my whole life. I mis-marked and then mis-cut $300 worth of finish plywood the day I proudly brought out my new lefty tape measure.

I was awfully proud of how far I managed to throw it across the job site when I realized my trouble.”

Then reader hihihi replied, “ProfSteelToe, am I glad that I read your comment dry, especially the last sentence, ie had I been enjoying a cuppa, the immediate vicinity in front of me would have too!   πŸ™‚

They say – I dunno who, or if it’s right – that lefties are the other half of identical twins, which is interesting.   πŸ™‚

Late last year I decided to replace my old, rusty, scratched and floppy tape measure, for a stiffer and wider one for greater reach. 

For a bit of fun, I opted for a tape measure with print on both sides. This novelty – to me – has turned out to be a really useful feature!”

Now BB

This came on the heels of a bad day in BB-land in which the “new” Chinese electronic caliper he bought about 6 months ago just went through its second battery. This is why I distrust most things with batteries. Yes, that caliper is wonderful. It measures inches, millimeters and even fractions of an inch. But when the darn thing won’t turn off and keeps flashing its display at you it’s beyond frustrating. I needed it to measure something in millimeters, and it was broken. I didn’t even need fractions of a millimeter — just millimeters, but when something is broken it’s broken all the way.

The picture at the top of today’s report is of a Mitutoyo metric dial caliper — a Japanese no-nonsense battery-less dial caliper. It sells new for around $100 on eBay. Does BB need such a thing? No, he doesn’t. Are there less expensive calipers that do the same thing? Yes, there are. For $30 I can buy the same tool. HOWEVER!!!

However

What do calipers do? They measure things. Are calipers that don’t measure accurately any good? Well, let’s see. What if you had a car that had every feature you wanted — heated seats, a great sound system a back-up camera and a large built-in GPS screen. They only little problem it had was the engine would not start. Would THAT be a problem for you?

BB uses calipers

I am always using calipers. I use them many times each week to measure the size of groups shot during testing. I have sets stashed at all my workplaces so they are convenient when I need them. At my desk I keep a backup 8-inch Mitutoyo dial caliper. I bought it used off eBay and, while I no longer recommend doing that with measuring devices, I lucked out and it came without rough spots or metal shavings in their gears, or at least that’s what I thought. I bought the 8-inch size because some of the groups I measure are larger than 6 inches. It’s not many, but some. So this was supposed to be a backup for my electronic caliper, but when things went south with it yesterday this set became my preferred one.

Denny knows a few things

When I bought the Mitutoyo caliper I got a whole lesson in calipers from my neighbor, Denny. He goes by the handle Sawdust on this blog because he works on wood projects in his garage. But in his former incarnation as a working stiff he was a pattern maker for several companies. His last gig was working on the B2 bomber and the C17 Globemaster. He ran my new/old caliper slide all the way out and told me the gears were rough beyond 4 inches. Well, BB doesn’t often need to measure things that large, so as I said, I lucked out.

Now, Denny also recently discarded a 40-year-old Starret caliper that he said was completely worn out. BB has to stretch to buy a Starret caliper and Denny is throwing one away? But BB understands. If the measuring tool doesn’t measure accurately, what good is it? And a measuring tool that spent forty years in the hands of a man who used it all the time would have a lot of stress. A hammer — not so much. But a dial caliper has a “best by” date that depends on its use.

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Vessel screwdrivers

Remember last May that we all learned about Vessel screwdrivers from Japan? Reader Jerry Cupples, the Pelletgage guy, told us about them in the report titled, Vessel Phillips screwdrivers.  Even Denny learned on that one and I gifted him the same set I bought myself, for all the help he gives me. Several readers also either told us about their experiences with Vessel drivers or else they had different screwdrivers that they said were even better.


The Vessel screwdriver is handy, precise and easy to operate.

Long-bladed screwdrivers

Even before the Vessel screwdrivers I talked about my long-bladed screwdrivers that I bought for those small screws that are in hard-to-reach places. When I bought them I knew I wouldn’t use them that much, but when you need a particular tool, it’s best if you have it. Sometimes there are workarounds, but often there aren’t and even a good workaround can cause unnecessary damage to your work.


My long-bladed screwdrivers save the day when I need them.

Cordless Dremel tool

I can’t say enough about my cordless Dremel tool. When I need it, it’s the only thing that will do. I have two corded Dremels that still work fine, but I never touch them anymore. The cordless Dremel is just so darned handy!

Dremel tools
My cordless Dremel tool is beyond handy.

Surprise, surprise

At the start of today’s report I mentioned that I needed a way to measure millimeters. As I was examining my Mitutoyo caliper for today’s report I noticed that it has millimeters on the top scale. I never noticed that before. Of course the dial part is only for inches, but all I needed was to measure to the nearest millimeter. So, I no longer need a metric dial caliper.

Miyitoyo metric
The scale on my Mitutoyo caliper reads inches on the bottom and millimeters on top. The dial that reads out to thousandths is only good for inches but that top scale is exactly what I need.

See what I mean about good tools? They are very important and sometimes they even save the day! And, as a curious aside, I note that all three tool-based problems we reported today dealt with measuring devices.

53 thoughts on “Good tools are important!”

  1. BB . . . I believe that you left out a very important set of tools. They come in sets of two, one usually stronger than the other: they are the Armstrong Brothers. Orv.

  2. “I am always using calipers.”
    B.B.,
    I’m with you on that; but I’m too old and crotchety to trade in my old non-dial calipers.
    They work just fine! Well, most younguns would likely have no idea how to use them.
    But that’s OK, hahaha! πŸ˜‰
    Blessings to you,
    dave

    • Dave,

      I have a non-dial Mitutoyo caliper myself. I do not use it much, but it is a good one. I also have an electronic caliper that reads out in metric (which this old geezer never uses) and inches. I have never replaced the battery, but I do not use it much also.

      • RidgeRunner, yeah, the old non-dial Mitotoyo calipers are good, and good to have around even if you don’t use it much. When I bought these, the electronic ones were just coming out, but pretty much everyone was using the dial version. As I mentioned here once before, I WAS going to get the dial version, but a crafty old machinist saw me looking at them in the catalog, and told me, “Get the ones without the dial…no one will ever steal them.” (a lot of people were finding their dial calipers ‘missing’ from their desks at the time, 1980 up in Maine).
        He was right; people would grab the calipers off my desk to do a quick measurement, then yell out, “Hey, where’s the dial?!?” Then they’d slam them back on my desk and walk away.
        Thank you, crafty old machinist. Thumbs up to you. πŸ˜‰

  3. Anything made by Starret will be hard to beat and will last most of a lifetime with proper handling and care. I’ve been a Machinist for thirty-eight years and Starrets are my go too’s. A good inch pound torque limiting driver is a must have for any type of gunsmithing, in particular action screw tightening and of course scope mounting .The less expensive drivers that lock you into preset .lbs(Wheeler FAT wrench) will work but the ones with a micrometer type dial are nicer. For screw drivers I am obsessive about fitment on slotted machine screw heads, my answer to this is to grind/hone to fit. I have about two dozen flat head screwdrivers in my shop with hang tags on them describing what they fit. Buggered up screw heads just ruin the look and value of any gun. Harbor Freight sells big sets of screwdriver for small money and these are what i make most of my custom fitted drivers from.

    • I have a Starret tape measure. It is awesome.

      I bought a set of gunsmithing screwdrivers just for working on my airguns. The proper fitment is sooooo important. I hate buggered screws.

    • Yogi, mine too. πŸ™‚

      My purely mechanical callipers still work fine, but I struggle to clearly read the second pair of notches for the tenths of millimetres. πŸ™

      So I upgraded to lightweight plastic ones that simply display the measurement digitally. What a wonderfully quick and simple to use device. πŸ™‚
      Yes, they require a button battery, but, what with their auto-shutoff, I think I changed the battery after about three or four years! πŸ™‚

      Then I discovered that I wanted more than tenths of millimetres accuracy/ read out. And this time I went back to metal, thinking they would be somehow better. Well, they really are fine and tell me to a hundredth of a millimetre of whatever I’m measuring. The digital display is nice’n’easy to see because it’s big.
      The only oversight of mine was that, being a) rather heavy and b) so precise/ sensitive, their automatic-on function is triggered by merely bumping, for example while carrying them in their plastic case.

      If I were to get yet another pair (I do not plan/ need to), it would be lightweight plastic callipers that digitally show hundredths of mm or ” (and a spare button battery). πŸ™‚

  4. Good quality tools are important. My grandfather and my father left me some very nice tools. I have added to that collection over the years. My grandson will have quite an expansive set of high quality tools.

  5. Tom,

    One of my best investments was a set of very small screwdrivers (actually one handle and drop-in tips) for air guns, electronics, guitars, wristwatches, eyeglass frames, anything with teeny-tiny fasteners. They come in sizes ranging from very small to tiny, and they are in every single type of tip I know of, all magnetized. Slotted, Philips, square, sporx, star, and two or three others. The kit was quite inexpensive, so I expected them to not work well, but they actually do the job every time. So much of the effectiveness of a screwdriver comes down to using the precisely correct size.

    Years ago I saw my dad’s auto mechanic using a slotted screwdriver that was perhaps 30 inches long and about the same circumference as my thumb. It probably weighed 4-5 pounds. He called it his “persuader.” He never used it to loosen or tighten anything. He used it as a combination crowbar, prybar and blunt object for recalcitrant parts on automobiles that needed “persuading” (to be smacked to loosen.) He told me where he got his, and I went right out and purchased one.

    Michael

    • “So much of the effectiveness of a screwdriver comes down to using the precisely correct size.”
      Michael,
      Yes; a gunsmith once told me, “A gunsmith can never have too many screwdrivers.”
      At the time, I was building wooden boats, and the old saying among wooden boat builders is,
      “You can never have too many clamps.” (I had 50 , and I still used to run out and have to improvise sometimes); so I totally got what the gunsmith was saying. πŸ˜‰
      Blessings to you,
      dave

  6. BB

    Been meaning to write some praise for the tip last year describing Vessel screwdrivers. I ordered a set like yours that same day. I was so pleased when I first used them I ordered another identical set just to have them available on deck as well as the work place. I have vowed to never use another Phillips screwdriver that doesn’t fit the screw head perfectly. I must have 20-25 old Phillips screwdrivers with handles collecting dust. I have many more Phillips bits wasting away and mad because they can’t mangle another screw or two.

    For me the Vessel tip was the most useful tip of 2022. Many thanks to Cupples and you for sharing.

    Deck

    • Deck,

      I think most of us learned something that day. Even Denny, mister pattern maker, had never heard of them. Now he swears by them, and he uses his all the time!

      BB

  7. I’m happy my comments were useful, friends. Interesting, my boss at Fujitsu was a very sharp young man, Mr. Iimura. The company transferred him back to Japan while I was still there, and as he was cleaning up his desk to depart, he came by my cube and handed me a wooden boxed (metric) Mitutoyo vernier caliper, asking me if I knew how to use it. I smiled and demonstrated, and he told me to keep it, as he thought dial calipers (this was forty years ago) had made verniers obsolete. This was before electronic calipers were common. Now, I use an electronic (mag scale) caliper – the iGaging IP54 6″ version that costs about $30 is excellent. Keep a spare CR2032 in case you forgot to turn off the (large, easily read) display. I’m keeping the verniers as a companion to my Post Versalog slide rule, in case of EMP or Carrington event.

  8. BB,

    I use all 3 types of calipers and have come to prefer the electronic ones with the large font. Find the decimal/fraction/metric capability to be useful as I often work in all three measurement systems on the same project. That’s not so strange if you watch British videos as they mix units of measures all the time.

    Being a PCB designer, I used to work on a decimal grid to follow that industry’s practices at that time. Now my CAD programs are all setup to work in millimeters – metric is just so much easier to use especially if you are working with weights and volumes.

    Yeah, good equipment is a pleasure to work with!

    Hank

    • Hank,

      I never knew you designed PCBs!

      As you might be aware of, in the tube guitar amp world a debate that has raged for decades is which is better, a well-executed PCB, or tag or turret board, or true point-to-point. The general debate is between simply PCB and handwired. Most techs and players (but not me) feel handwired sounds just slightly better. All techs agree handwired is far easier to maintain and repair. Some dare to argue fewer parasitic oscillations and less hum are an advantage of PCB.

      Probably 10 percent of tube guitar amps are even to this day handwired. Hey, I actually own a vintage amp that is solid state and true point-to-point. :^)

      Back to tools, you might lecture me, but I have an extremely long screwdriver with a heavily insulated grip to discharge capacitors at the chassis.

      Michael

      • Hank,

        I forgot to mention another advantage of handwired tube amps. With PCBs these days all pots, switches, and jacks are board-mounted. Many even board-mount transformers and, gasp, tubes. Handwired amps usually have all of that chassis-mounted.

        Michael

      • Yup, PCBs my whole career. Assembly, design, layout, manufacturing and testing… all of it. And my first (real) job was as a wiring man so I’ve seen both sides of the discussion. πŸ™‚

        Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve worked on some pretty exotic PCB designs – high power, high speed, sensitive analog, microwave and even flexible circuit stuff. You can accommodate about any design requirement with a board. Built in antennas, shielding, heaters, keypads and things like that are routine.

        Ridged/flex designs are fun 3 dimensional puzzles. You have a bunch of ridged boards with components and connectors joined together with flexible printed circuits. The whole assembly is “wired” together, you just fold it, stick it in the enclosure with the connectors and switchs poking out and bolt the whole thing into place.

        I’m always especially careful around capacitors. Worked on industrial lasers that had 6 farrad capacitors (the size of a gallon paint can) on them. One of the techs didn’t shunt the caps properly and did a back flip into the hospital. Some of the even larger caps had a warning in large text: THE DISCHARGE FROM THIS CAPACITOR IS LETHAL Very interesting to work there.

        Don’t think that the Amp debate will ever end. πŸ™‚ I always wondered why audiophiles were so hung up on having equipment with specs that were way beyond the range of human hearing. Each to their own.

        Hank

        • Vana2,

          Some high fidelity types say humans can hear with more than just their ears. Also, not talking bone conduction to the inner ear.
          I often had the hair stand on my neck right before the gear detected a RADAR trying to get Lock On!
          Hank I’m certain it was just coincidence every time it happened ;^p …right?

          shootski

          • shootski,

            …A disturbance in the FORCE?

            Kidding aside, I know what you mean. I’m sensitive to such things and will pay attention to “feelings” and “hunches”.

            Think that “civilized man” has been a top predator for so long that he has (mostly) lost contact with his common senses let alone the the finer ones.

            Bet that you can feel if someone/something is watching you. I’ll often notice a hidden deer because I start looking for the cause of that feeling. I think everybody has experienced that sensation it’s just that they don’t recognize it for what it is anymore.

            Yeah, let’s just dismiss it as supernatural stuff πŸ™‚

            Hank

            • Hank and shootski,

              My money is on smell. You smelled the radar and Hank smelled the deer. We know that some dogs can smell cancer. We do not think that human smell is very sensitive, and it isn’t, by our perception of what smell is. But what if the sense of smell is far more complex than what humans have ever considered?

              Why do horses, both those freed from their stables and wild ones, often escape wild fires by going uphill? How do they know to do that? Could much of what we consider instinct actually be related to smell?

              Michael

              • Michael,

                Could it be that there are more than the 5 senses?

                Deer dodge arrows, animals get nervous and bolt for no reason.

                Then there’s Spider-Man’s spider-sense and the Jedi FORCE and a 5 watt CB radio that can reach hundreds of miles on a wave-skip. Heard (somewhere) that the human brain is capable of 5 watts. πŸ˜‰

                Who knows eh?

                Have a great weekend!
                Hank

                • I was a night disc jockey at a small AOR FM station when I was in high school. We had, I recall, a tiny 10 kilowatt transmitter, and I forget how tall our antenna was. It couldn’t have been very high as it was based on the ground, not a Loop skyscraper roof.

                  We used to joke that people could dial us in as far as 20 miles away if the wind was right. ;^)

                  Michael

        • Hank,

          Yep, even small capacitors can knock a 250 pound man off his feet and rolling across the floor. Tube amps can sound bad and SS can sound good, but in general tube sounds better. Well designed printed boards have lower noise floors, and can sound excellent.

          The best wired guitar amps, without doubt, were Hiwatt tube amps from the Hylight era (late 1960s-mid 1970s), with mil-spec wiring overseen by the legendary Harry Joyce.

          The photo below is the guts of one of those amplifiers, from about 1972. To amp techs pictures like that are like Playboy centerfolds. Look at that lead dress! All the right angles!

          Michael

          • Nice!

            I worked as a wiring man on stuff like that before I went into PCBs.

            Do you remember the control panel for the Death Star weapon in Star Wars? It originally was a video switcher panel called a CD480. I worked for Central Dynamics and actually wired that unit… if you would lift the lid you would see a small round stamp that has my number (115) on it.

            Hank

            • In 1979 I had a personal tour of TV production and broadcast studios at WGN, and all the boards looked just like that, with backlit pushbutton switches and levers. To me those and thick, bright red LED counters are the epitome of 1960s-1970s electronics chic. (Along with McIntosh’s blue lit meters, of course.)

  9. I wondered if anyone like me thought, it’s all well and good to have the latest and greatest accurate measuring device, but it’s no bleedin’ use if you can’t see it! πŸ™‚

    Therefore, I submit the importance, at least for me, of the pictured old age adaptor… πŸ™‚

      • Hehe, yes of course Vana2. πŸ™‚

        These are also excellent for the left eye dominant, right handed person who wants to shoot a right handed long arm – can you guess how I know?! πŸ™‚

        • Hihihi,

          I can relate.

          I’m right handed, right eye dominant, but had to shoot left handed for a year because of a cataract in my dominant eye.

          Both eyes were fixed last spring so now I’m dealing with the lack of a clearly dominant eye. Fun stuff!

          Hank

      • Hehe shootski, how interesting! πŸ™‚

        I have to admit, that wearing those spectacles would likely make me feel rather self conscious. But I can think of a simple way to alleviate that discomfort, using a black marker pen. No one would know… ! πŸ™‚

        • hihihi,

          When I was a young single man I used a pair of those from time to time in social settings as an Ice Breaker. After saying, “Enough about me, tell me about yourself.” At that point I would put on the X-Ray Goggles and laughing say…”Only the truth now!”
          Worked great most often.

          shootski

          • This tool-themed write up was interestingly timed for FM. A few weeks ago the 38T revolver started leaking CO2 rapidly; this seemed to be thru the piercing valve assembly. At first tried the transmission sealer fix using Barr’s Leaks but that did not work. FM couldn’t accept that a well-resealed gun could have gone bad less than two years since overhaul.

            Then somehow FM came up with the notion that perhaps the piercing valve guide collar/ring was loose; but, how to tighten it in so little maneuvering space? Then another flash of perspiration came and remembered there was an odd small wrench used on sliding door hardware FM had held onto. Turned out the round wrench side fit the notches in the guide collar perfectly and, thanks for smaller hands and fingers, was able to tighten the ring snugly.

            Let’s hope this fixed things – had no time to install a new cartridge and do a test shoot but, regardless, here’s to β€œad hoc” tools that work! The little wrench is now in the airgun tool box. Testing and β€œchrony-ing” to follow for the revolver.

            By the way Hank, went back to your article on resealing the 38T for guidance with this problem. Thanks for that – it helped guide the clueless FM towards a possible solution.

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