Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hold it!

As you know by now, 'tis the season where I can't tell you what I'm doing. So I will post on the fine art of holding things down. In particular, when you are soldering (or gluing) things together, you must hold the work firmly, or the solder won't "take" (or the glue joint will be bad). So this post deals with devices to hold your work. Of course this is miniature stuff, so we deal in small devices.

Your first requirement is a small vise. I have a 80mm or so vise clamped to my kitchen worktable, and another slightly smaller one on my indoor workbench.
These vises are indispensable. Both my vises double as anvils for microforging. But for really small stuff, you need another whole set of gadgets.
In the center of the still life is my third hand. As you can see, it has a cast-iron base and a long cross-arm, suspended on a ball-jointed gizmo that allows you to tilt the arm any way you want. The cross-arm has smaller ball-jointed arms which end in alligator clips. It is the 'gators that do the holding. These clips are serrated, which is occasionally exasperating because your piece rotates in the teeth, but is sometimes useful. This thing, as I recall, cost me less than two bucks at the "Chinese Tool tent," a summer institution near Anchorage. I could not make anything without it.

Upper right are my miniature toolmaker's clamps, sold by Lee Valley. These are just like regular toolmaker's clamps but much smaller. I have two sizes, and use them frequently. They are slow to adjust but once you get them on they are bulldogs. Very useful.

At the bottom, or 6 o'clock position (we are going clockwise) is one of the most useful holding devices I have discovered. I call it lettuce wire. It is free. You get about 60cm of lettuce wire with every head of lettuce (buy red leaf or romaine or butter, not with that awful iceberg stuff) that you buy at the supermarket. It comes wrapped in paper, as the blue stuff below. You remove the paper, and you have some very thin, soft wire you can use to lash things together. It has the great virtue of being usolderable; solder will not adhere to it. So when you are through soldering, just cut the lashing and you're done.

At about 9 o'clock we have yet another marvel holding device. It is a lady's hair curler clip. These are available almost everywhere. They are made to hold hair-curling rollers on to hair. They are aluminum, so once again solder will not stick to them. They are really, really, cheap. I have some I cut down and I think the cut-down ones work better, but more experience is necessary. I thank Mr David Wingrove MBE for this suggestion. If you are going to build models, you must have Wingrove's books. Curler clips are also made out of steel (exemplar to the right of the aluminum ones). Unfortunately solder will stick to these, so I un-recommend them. Nothing more frustrating than soldering the clamp to the work!

As a finale, the third hand in action. And it has nothing to do with miniatures.
What I am doing here is repairing a pair of glasses. These things have tiny screws to hold the earpieces onto the glasses. Putting in those screws is a two-handed job. The third hand holds the glasses fixed while I do the deed.

So maybe next time I'll do a post on tools for miniatures. Who knows? And it snowed today and yesterday, so I have a long bit of blowing to do.

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