Retrotechtacular: The Iron Giants That Built The Jet Age

In the closing months of World War II, the Axis and the Allies were throwing everything they had at each other. The tide was turning to the Allies’ favor, but the Germans were showing a surprising resilience, at least in terms of replacing downed fighter and bomber aircraft. When the Allies examined the wreckage of these planes, they discovered the disturbing truth: the planes contained large pieces forged from single billets of metal, which suggested a manufacturing capability none of the Allies possessed and which allowed the Germans to quickly and cheaply make better and faster planes.

When the war was over, the Allies went looking for the tools the Germans had used to make their planes, and found massive closed-die forging presses that could squeeze parts out of aluminum and magnesium alloys in a single step. The Soviets carted off a 30,000 ton machine, while the Americans went home with a shipload of smaller presses and the knowledge that the Russians had an edge over them. Thus began the Heavy Press Program, an ultimately successful attempt by the US military to close a huge gap in strategic manufacturing capabilities that [Machine Thinking] details in the excellent video below.

One doesn’t instantly equate monstrous machines such as the Mesta 50,000-ton press, over nine stories tall with half of it buried underground and attached directly to bedrock, with airplane manufacture. But without it and similar machines that came from the program, planes from the B-52 to the Boeing 747 would have been impossible to build. And this isn’t dead technology by any means; sold to Alcoa in 1982 after having been operated by them for decades, the “Fifty” recently got a $100 makeover after cracks appeared in some castings, and the press and its retro-brethren are still squeezing out parts for fighters as recent as the F-35.

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3D Printing a Printing Press

If you move among artists, you may have encountered a few printmakers. They create a drawing by cutting through a wax layer that has been deposited on a sheet of copper, then etching the plate and removing the wax. Ink is then rolled onto the plate and cleaned from the flat surface, remaining in the cracks created by the etching. A print is made by putting inked plate and a sheet of paper through a roller press at significant pressure, squeezing the ink from the cracks onto the paper. The result is a beautiful print, but the press required to do the job is by no means cheap.

[Martin Schneider] has addressed this expense with his Open Press project, by producing a printmaking press that can be 3D-printed for a fraction of the outlay of a traditional press. It’s by no means a large model, but appears no less functional for it.

The form of the press is straightforward enough, with a print bed that is drawn between a pair of rollers by a rack-and-pinion gear, and as you would imagine the construction is quite substantial. It’s all CC licensed, and you can make one for yourself if you would like, by downloading the files from Thingiverse.

It’s fair to say that printmaking hasn’t appeared much here, but we can see this press could have significant use beyond artistic applications. Meanwhile it’s a great example of 3D printing providing the means to reduce the barrier to entry for something that was previously quite an expensive pursuit.

Arbor Press Modded for Applying Specific Force

Arbor presses are simple and effective tools made for a particular task: exerting force in a specific spot. A 1-ton arbor press fits on a desktop and is very affordable, but doesn’t offer a lot of particularly fine control over the ram beyond lowering and raising it. [concreted0g] got to thinking about ways to gain more control and knowledge about the amount of force being applied, and made a simple modification to combine his press with a torque wrench.

He removed the spindle which raises and lowers the ram, and drilled and tapped it to fit a bolt. Now, by attaching a torque wrench to the bolt and using the wrench as the handle for lowering the ram, he can take advantage of the wrench’s ability to break at set amounts of force. As a result, he has a repeatable way to accurately apply specific amounts of force with a tool that usually lacks this ability. It looks like this mod is limited to lower forces only (too much could shear off the bolt head, after all) but it combines two tools in an unusual way to gain an ability that didn’t exist before, which is great to see. Mods and presses seem to go very well together; don’t miss this DIY thermal insert add-on for an arbor press, and 3D printed dies for a press brake turned out to be remarkably durable and versatile, not to mention economical.

Low-Budget Hydroformer Puts the Squeeze on Sheet Metal Parts

Between manufacturing technologies like 3D-printing, CNC routers, lost-whatever metal casting, and laser and plasma cutters, professional quality parts are making their way into even the most modest of DIY projects. But stamping has largely eluded the home-gamer, what with the need for an enormous hydraulic press and massive machined dies. There’s more than one way to stamp parts, though, and the budget-conscious shop might want to check out this low-end hydroforming method for turning sheet metal into quality parts.

If hydroforming sounds familiar, it might be because we covered [Colin Furze]’s attempt, which used a cheap pressure washer to inflate sheet metal bubbles with high-pressure water. The video below shows a hydroformer that [Rainbow Aviation] uses (with considerably less screaming) to make stamped aluminum parts for home-brew aircraft. The kicker with this build is that there is no fluid — at least not until the 40,000-pound hydraulic press semi-liquifies the thick neoprene rubber pad placed over the sheet metal blank and die. The pressure squeezes the metal into and around the die, forming some pretty complex shapes in a single operation. We especially like the pro-tip of using Corian solid-surface countertop material offcuts to make the dies, since they’re available for a pittance from cabinet fabricators.

It’s always a treat to see hacks from the home-brew aviation world. They always seem to have plenty of tricks and tips to share, like this pressure-formed light cowling we saw a while back.

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Apple Cider Press is Just In Time for Fall

Do you like hacking? Do you like apple cider? Do you like ceiling fans? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then boy do we have the project for you! [Lou Wozniak] has an awesome tutorial for building an apple cider press using a ceiling fan motor and a handful of items available at your local hardware store.

The build is pretty simple in concept but complex in execution, and [Lou] does a fantastic job of covering every step in detail in his two project videos. The project has two main components: the grinder to decimate the apples and create a juicy, pulpy soup, and the press to extract the juice. The grinder is powered by the fan motor, while the press uses a screw-drive connected to a power drill, and then a ratchet to squeeze out every last drop.

Eager for more ceiling fan motor goodness? You’re in luck! Apparently [Lou] is a master of repurposing fan motors, and we featured a pottery wheel he made with one a while back.

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Fail of the Week: The Demise of Lil’ Screwy

fotw-demise-of-lil-screwy

The subject of this Fail of the Week installment is entertaining if nothing else. [Chris] decided to see what kind of forces his home-built 100 ton press could stand up to. Turns out the press failed at punching a 1.5″ hole through 1/2″ plate steel.

If you didn’t see it back in February make sure you take a gander at the premier of Lil’ Screwy. The diminutive press packed quite a bit of punch, using four hand-cranked screws to knock out holes in metal. [Chris] decided to tie-one-on and take his lathe for a spin to machine the larger 1.5″ punch set.

He probably should have known when he switched from a 4-foot ratchet to a crescent wrench with a 12-foot pipe for leverage that this was going to be more than the press could handle. The bottom plate seen in the image above is beginning to cup, which in turn jams up the screws in the off-kilter threads.

We fell a bit guilty in admitting we love to see equipment pushed to the point of failure like this. But perhaps that’s part of what this column is all about. Our favorite is still the PCB shear failure, but this comes in at a close second. Check out the video presentation after the break; just be warned that there’s a bit of rough language as part of the narrative.

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Behold Lil’ Screwy, A Homebrew 100-Ton Press

Here we have a magnificent example of the power of the inclined plane. [Chris] has built Lil’ Screwy, a 100-ton home-built press for about $35 plus scrap on hand. He demonstrates its frightening power by punching a 17-mm hole through 8mm-thick steel using an Allen key.

As [Chris] explains in his hilarious video waiting for you after the jump, the force comes from using really big screws. Lil’ Screwy uses four 1-inch L7-rated ready rods with eight threads to the inch. The bolts run between two 1″ steel plates to form the press. In the top plate, he drilled 1″ holes. The bottom holes are drilled out 7/8″ and tapped so the two plates clamp together with awesome crushing power when you twist the giant coupling nuts.

[Chris] milled a pocket in the underside of the top plate for a big neodymium magnet that will keep, for instance, a 17-mm Allen key in place while you punch a piece of steel with it. He has a ring of smaller ones embedded into the bottom plate to hold supports in place for broaching.

As a special bonus, [Chris] shows you how to stick it to the man when it comes to using that last bit of Never-Seez in the can, and also how to make your decals temporarily repositionable.

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