Dirty work JOHN ROOTH

4 x 4 Australia - - Front Page - JOHN ROOTH

IT’S FUNNY, isn’t it? Last month we had a yarn about metal fa­tigue, and I showed you some of the da­m­age on Milo’s front panel. But then when I went to make an­other one, the first thing I had to deal with was an­other form of fa­tigue.

No, not the sort that sees the av­er­age mud­flat­ter with his head on the bar late at night af­ter a rather long counter lunch. Nope, this time it was rub­ber fa­tigue in the MIG welder.

If I sound sur­prised, it’s be­cause I was. See, I bought that MIG more than 15 years ago af­ter putting in buck­ets of re­search to make sure I got the right one. It’s the first MIG I’ve ever owned and will prob­a­bly out­last me. So I guess this col­umn is a bit of a yarn on what to look for when you’re spend­ing money on tools. And it’s writ­ten by some­one who’s wasted so much money on tools over the years, he should know.

I started col­lect­ing tools as a lad. My 14th birth­day present was a set of Sid­chrome sock­ets – Whitworth-sized, be­cause I had an old BSA. I’ve still got them, and still use them. They’re a bit rusty maybe, but good tools can last a life­time. At 16, with a tool­box full from farm sales and things bought when needed, I made the big­gest in­vest­ment of my life: a stick (or arc) welder, be­cause I wanted to weld some mounts to my FJ to take a red mo­tor.

These days you can buy stick welders any­where, from Big W to the web, but back then, es­pe­cially in the coun­try, there wasn’t a lot of range. In fact, in my town I had a choice of two, and one was an in­dus­trial model so ex­pen­sive I could have bought an­other dozen or

so FJS for the same money. That’s not say­ing much: the av­er­age price of an FJ in 1973 was about $50.

This was still slightly more than I earned in a week, and the smaller welder still cost me three weeks’ work. It was a Liq­uid Arc, made in Aus­tralia, and al­though it looks like to­tal crap, it still works.

I got lucky, be­cause in those days in a small town no busi­ness could sur­vive sell­ing stuff that didn’t last. Strangely enough, last time I passed through there, there was a dol­lar shop sell­ing rub­bish where the old hard­ware store used to be. Times change, eh?

That lit­tle Liq­uid Arc taught me to stick weld, which meant I could al­ways make a buck in the bush; in the ranks of bush me­chan­ics, you’re judged by how good your own weld­ing looks. Start­ing young is an ad­van­tage!

Along the way I learnt gas weld­ing, too, al­though the gas usu­ally got used more for cut­ting, braz­ing and bend­ing. Still, armed with both, I could pretty much do any­thing. So, even though the world had shifted to MIG weld­ing, I just stuck to the old stick.

Then, faced with a whole stack of panel weld­ing back in the days when I first built Milo, I fig­ured it was time to in­vest in an MIG and learn how to use one. I looked at var­i­ous mod­els, asked peo­ple who used them daily – like my mate Cooky who builds cus­tom ex­hausts – and did a bit of home­work on the prin­ci­ples be­hind gas shield­ing. I wound up yarn­ing with a bloke called Greg from State of the Arc.

Here’s the first trick: If you’re go­ing to make a real in­vest­ment in tools, go to a spe­cial­ist (for­get about the com­bi­na­tion 52-piece tool­kit you get for $12 at Aldi). In my case, that meant trav­el­ling a cou­ple of sub­urbs away to Ca­pal­aba. Greg was a boil­er­maker in a past life and ex­actly the sort of bloke who knew about weld­ing. He rec­om­mended buy­ing the largest sin­gle-phase MIG in the shop, which was a lovely bright red Lin­coln.

I baulked at the price – even if it was only half that of a rusty FJ – but he told me the same fac­tory that made Lin­colns un­der li­cence here in Aus­tralia also made its own brand – much the same thing but at a bet­ter price. That brand was Liq­uid Arc. With happy mem­o­ries of the back seat of the old FJ, I gladly put in an or­der.

The ‘new’ MIG worked bril­liantly ev­ery time I needed it, un­til I plugged it in to do the job pic­tured here. Then it spat­tered and sparked and gen­er­ally be­haved like one of us had lost the plot. It gave plenty of gas, so the wire feed was right, but the test welds looked like bird shit.

So I rang State of the Arc and asked to speak to Greg. I fig­ured af­ter 15 years he’d prob­a­bly moved on, but he was still there. Good shops are like that. I was only half­way through de­scrib­ing my prob­lem when he said: “How old is it again?” He told me that the rub­ber gas line was prob­a­bly past its use-by date, so none of the shield­ing gas was get­ting to the hand­piece. Then he told me how to fix it.

Af­ter a bit of muck­ing around and sourc­ing some old fuel line, I was back in busi­ness. I was so chuffed I fig­ured I’d drop over to State of the Arc with a slab of XXXX. I would have, too, ex­cept the old bike wouldn’t start un­til I’d swapped out the bat­tery – and the 10mm span­ner and Phillips driver from the Aldi tool­kit had turned to cheese.

So if you’re plan­ning on muck­ing around with ma­chines for a life­time or two, good tools are worth ev­ery penny. Next month I’ll tell you how things went with the new front panel!

Milo twist­ing her way through an­other for­est track. You can see there’s plenty of strain on that front panel, es­pe­cially af­ter a few decades of this stuff.

2. The plan was to make a steel frame out of an­gle iron. Start­ing with a chalk out­line of an­other old front panel (Milo’s was too warped!) on the bench­top, I cut the pieces af­ter trans­fer­ring the cor­ner an­gles. They were cut a tad large so I could trim them to fit.

3. Af­ter tack­ing the bits of an­gle to­gether on the chalk out­line, I turned up the old Liq­uid Arc and blasted the new frame to­gether.

4. Af­ter scrap­ing, clean­ing and de­greas­ing the rear tub, Joe slapped on the enamel with a brush. It’ll get scratched even­tu­ally so it’s more about slow­ing down the rust than look­ing good.

1. Hav­ing been cut into sev­eral times to make room for the in­ter­cooler pipework (un­der the head­lights) and ‘slimmed’ to al­low more air­flow to the ra­di­a­tor, Milo’s front panel was falling to pieces!

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