Handy Machinery and Supplies

A lot of time can be saved (and money) with the enough of the right tools.

Having a metal lathe, mill and 4 drill presses at home made it possible to build rigs etc, on weekends when home. I carried more and more stuff back and forth to my shop to make rigs etc. I used a lot of stuff left over from the studio; hundreds of pounds of metal, screws and bolts, tools, pipe, Speed Rail, scaffold fittings and other things too good to throw away. I had to plead for some of the stuff back that I had given away. Most people were very accommodating.

Plenty of battery hand drills, batteries and chargers save time. We had at least 8 or more portable drills between the shops and on the set. Looking for a tool is wasted time.

We used drill bits of all sizes. Harbor Freight has good collections. I tried to get people to use misc. drills before taking any from the 115 bit exact size collections. Trying to find a tapping size bit that has to be the right size can be frustrating. Files, punches, wrenches etc. are very helpful in enough quantity to avoid wasted time looking for them.

One good drill press is a must. Two are better. We had a homemade thread-tapping rig. Files, lots of drills of all sizes. Forstener and chipper bits. Hole saws. Punches.

We make some of our own grip equipment needed to replace the buckets of grip heads most animations studios have that we couldn't afford.

It saves time to have many separate boxes of sorted dry wall screws.

A 1" belt sander was always in use by the puppet makers, set builders and by us removing sharp edges on metal. A 1" hand Makita belt sander was used a lot. A 4" horizontal belt sander was great for larger flat surfaces. A quality wood chop saw, a good metal cut-off saw, a wood and plastic band saw, a skill saw, and a saber saw. We cut steel with a carbide blade in a Skill Saw and thin metal with a power nibbler. A disk sander can do minor flat milling of metal and hard plastic. Speaking of hard plastic. Delrin can be used in place of metal in many instances. It is lightweight and very easy to machine and is quite strong. Teflon is a great bearing material and easy to machine too.

You can never have enough handy plywood and wood scraps of all thicknesses, 2 x 4 scraps, metal of all sizes and shapes. We used yards of all-thread in all sizes from 4-40 to 1/2"-13. We used rod from 1/8 inch up. Tube is more rigid per pound and is a bit hard to find in sizes such as 5/8" OD (baby pin and grip arm size) with a 3/8" ID. Fiberglass tent poles are strong, light and flexible. There are many other fiberglass rods available in the hardware stores such as flue cleaners. Green plant stakes are dirt cheep as is EMT conduit.

The studio was 4 hours out of LA and many things weren't available locally. Some things could be ordered, but exact descriptions were crucial to get the right thing.

You can help a runner find a solution if you explain what something is needed for or what it does. Substitutes are possible when what you envision isn't available or costs too much. A phone call to suppliers can save time, but not all clerks are acquainted with what their store stocks and other stores may have.

I love high quality 3/4-inch plywood with 7 plys. Some places have Super ply and some have marine ply. Some have high quality ply with fancy surfaces. In any case get plywood with no internal voids, good glue and as many plys (7) as possible. For lesser needs such as bracing, cheaper 5 ply will do just fine.

I also use a lot of Tee Nuts. They make putting threads in plywood and plastic easy. They come in almost all thread sizes. If you want a flush surface on the back side of the plywood, counter drill a shallow hole with a Forstener or paddle bit to make the head flush before drilling the clearance hole for the body of the tee nut. Install the tee nut with a bolt and washer from the opposite side to align it accurately. Don't just pound them in with a hammer.

A coat of black or grey paint will make your plywood rigs look more professional.

We did a lot of wiring and used wire of many sizes. Good wire strippers are helpful. Shrink tube and crimp on connectors are useful. Wire nuts are OK sometimes, but can come apart when not wanted. We often ran out of light and wall outlet sockets.

We did primitive milling on a drill press with an x/y-milling table.

© Copyright 2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.