Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Geological Creed: "My Rock Hammer is My Friend"

Estwing E30 Pointed-Tip Rock Pick


We tend to associate certain tools with familiar professions.  For medical professionals, it's a stethoscope; for lawyers it's a briefcase. Ever seen a coach without a stopwatch and clipboard, or an engineer without a pocket protector? Well, I'm a geologist: I carry a rock hammer.

Estwing E30 Pointed-Tip Rock Pick with leather handle
The hammer that lives at my house is a favorite of my fellow geologists. It’s the 22-ounce Estwing pointed-tip rock pick, clad in t classic leather handle (they call it the E30). This is my second with this design. My first, I bought before Estwing sold a hammer with a rubber handle. It’s probably still at the base of a limestone cliff in southeastern Arizona. If it weren’t I'd probably still have that first hammer almost fifty years after I paid about $12 for it. They're that dependable...

Estwing’s hammers, made in Rockford, Illinois, are acknowledged as the top of the line for among geologists. The different rock picks come in weights ranging from 13 to 22 ounces, and are available with blue or orange shock-absorbing rubber handles or the original laminated leather handle. The rubber-handled models can be bought with either pointed or chisel-end pick; the leather-handled model is available only with a pointed tip.

All Estwing rock hammers are drop-forged from a single piece of steel and built with a full tang , meaning that the shaft runs the full length of the handle. Head and shaft are both polished, and the exposed section of the shaft has an oval cross-section that shifts the center of mass higher without a reduction in tensile strength. Every model of rock pick has a lifetime guarantee against failure. The geologist’s choice of leather or rubber handle is partially aesthetics and partially tradition: leather-handled picks have used since the 1920s, and many feel they look "nicer" when a hammer is used for photographic scale.

     Not many adult geologists use the 13- or 14-ounce hammer for field work; these smaller hammers are intended for younger rockhounds and fossil collectors or for paleontologists. Most field geologists use the larger 22-ounce. After choosing a size, the scientist must decide on pick style: traditional pointed-tip picks work well for levering rocks from the ground, and is preferred by hard-rock geologists. Soft-rock geologists usually choose a chisel-end hammer, whose broad tip is goof for splitting layers of sedimentary rock.

My version is a 22-ounce model with the laminated leather grip and pointed pick; the traditional  design. It's just over 12 inches in length, and weighs the claimed 22 ounces (616 grams).

Like all Estwing rock hammers, this one has neither welds nor joints that can break or loosen. The grip’s made of leather ovals some 1/8” thick, stacked on the tang. The entire stack is riveted in place. It has the signature pattern of black and white stripes near the top and bottom of the grip, made from dyed leather. The manufacturing process smooths the leather stack and then seals the grip with lacquer. This creates a grip marked by subtle color alterations due to variations in the leather, which gives the handle its well-known striped appearance. These handles can stand up to abuse for many years: they slide around the bed of a field truck, get banged on outcrops and dropped in streams, and are occasionally dropped from cliffs. After all that abuse, the handle still looks good, providing both shock absorption and a sure grip. Over perhaps forty years in the field, I remember seeing only one of those handles that had failed - a leather disk broke and slipped out, leaving the rest of the stack loose.

My pick has also had many a use over over the years:

  • whacking outcrops and hand samples to expose fresh surfaces
  • photographic scale
  • digging in loose soil to grub up "float."
  • prying apart loosely-consolidated sedimentary rock
  • flipping rocks lying on the desert floor to make certain there's not a scorpion or snake hiding under them
  • probing out soft sediment from harder layers

Of course, mine has also been put to the occasional "non-standard" uses:
  • poking holes in cans when I've misplaced the can opener
  • fishing six-packs  from the icy mountain streams
  • serving as a paperweight for geological maps spread on the hood of my field vehicle
    
…and many other uses. Unless you lose your E30 (mea culpa), this tool will give stellar service for a lifetime. Simply put, that Estwing E30 rock hammer is the gold standard for geologists everywhere.
copyright © 2017 scmrak

Sunday, July 3, 2016

You, too, can be a Happy Clamper with 3/4-Inch Pony Pipe Clamps

Pony Tools ¾-Inch Pipe Clamps #50


Pony Pipe Clamp
Any good woodshop has what may appear to be excessive wall space lined with clamps of all sizes and shapes. Many look at first glance to be common black pipe with bulky orange fittings on the end, and that’s exactly what they are: black pipes with orange cranks and tabs on the ends. They’re a woodworking standard, gas pipe fitted with ¾-inch Pony Pipe Clamps, and most woodworkers have several pairs.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

It’s Always the 4th of July When You Own a Palm Nailer

Porter-Cable Palm Nailer PN650


Everyone has his or her weakness, be it shoes, books, music, or whatever. One of mine – I have several, unfortunately – is power tools. Fortunately, using tools for projects gives me the best excuse to buy new ones. Can people say that about their shoe habits? Happily, my wife buys them for me as gifts – perhaps because of the carpenter genes she got from her Dad. One such gift was a device that lands somewhere in the middle between "why didn't I think of that?" and "why would anyone want that?" It's a Porter-Cable PN650 Palm Nailer. Not familiar? Think on this:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Accentuate the Natural Beauty of the Wood

Formby's Low Gloss Tung Oil Finish


The project I'd (finally) completed was small, and I'd made an unusual choice of woods: half clean, yellow-blond poplar and the other half handsome, chocolaty walnut. The choice of woods – in particular the colors --  was the point of the piece, so when it came time for finishing I wanted something that would accentuate the wood's texture without overpowering its natural colors. My Dad liked tung oil for subtle finishes, so I followed his lead by choosing some Formby's Traditional Tung Oil Finish. Although Formby's is now a member of the MinWax family, Homer's bespectacled face still decorates the label and, according to MinWax, the formula is unchanged.

The low-gloss formula I used is 70% aliphatic hydrocarbons (i.e., mineral spirits), and the rest is a proprietary mixture of oils and resins of tung oil, pressed from the nuts of a tree native to east Asia. Formby's Tung Oil is intended for use as a hand-rubbed finish, applied with lint-free cloth in a circular motion, much like waxing a car. After the finish dries -- some twelve hours, unless the humidity is high -- you apply another coat. I prefer to soften the grain with a light application of steel wool between coats. Repeat until the finish is satisfactory.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Skil's entry-level wet tile saw gets the job done for DIYers

Skil 3540-2 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw


I once laid ceramic tile in a bathroom using only the “score and snap” technique to cut my tiles… never again! It’s something you only have to experience once, if you ask me. So when I took on a project remodeling the powder room, a project that entailed ripping up the existing sheet vinyl (thank you, Rockwell Sonicrafter!) and laying 8” x 8” tiles, I sprung for a wet tile saw. Amazon had bunches, most of which were out of reach – so I went for the least expensive model they had with a name I recognized.  That mean I chose a SKIL 3540-02 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw. Being a recognizable name, though, doesn’t mean the saw didn’t come from China…

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Handi-Clamps: Irwin's Gift to Woodworkers Who Never Learned to Juggle

Irwin Quickgrips 4-Inch Handi-Clamps


The walls in the shop look like they've sprouted bar clamps in all sizes and shapes: these are the "big guns" in my woodworking arsenal. Smaller clamps, in multiple shapes and sizes themselves, dwell in a drawer in my tool cabinet. There you’ll find C-Clamps, band clamps, spring clamps and corner clamps; along with some light-duty clamps combine the C-Clamp’s reach with a spring clamp’s convenience. By that, I mean some Irwin Quick-Grip Handi-Clamps, the 4-inch size (stock number 59400CD).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Crown Molding was Never This Easy: Corner Blocks Rule!

House of Fara Corner Blocks


There are few interior details that effectively add some "class" to a room as a
course of crown molding up at ceiling level. It's tasteful, elegant, attractive... and a total pain in the butt to install. That’s probably why the skinny saw originally used to cut miters on the stuff is called a coping saw: because carpenters had to cope with the stuff too. But seriously: cutting a miter in crown molding truly tries one’s patience: does it go in the miter box/saw upside down? right-side up? Must you cope the joints for a better fit? How loud should you swear when you botch a cut?