Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Friday, December 23, 2005
Carnival of flatpack. A little while ago Squander Two* posted about his woes concerning Homebase flatpack furniture, and added to my understanding of Thatcherism in the comments. I emailed my husband about it. No, that's wrong. What did they used to call it again? I spoke to him about it using a vocal protocol. And he wrote a blog post of his own about Homebase flatpack furniture. This is it.
A year or so ago Natalie and I went into Homebase for a few washers or something and left having bought two children’s loft beds with study areas underneath. Just the thing when you have a couple of pre-teens with too many possessions. They were delivered a day or so later and we, having evicted the previous beds, got to work. At fist it all went pretty well, although we used our own tools rather than the silly little allen keys in the kit. We assembled one together with no more hassle than having occasionally to drift a couple of misaligned holes together, so Natalie decided she could do most of the second one all by herself. After a certain amount of time she called for help. A screw wouldn’t go in. It was perfectly well aligned but just wouldn’t bite. I tried, full of confidence in my ability to succeed where she had failed but I couldn’t get the thing in either. I examined the offending screw, a ¼ inch or 6mm machine screw with a fairly coarse thread. Its thread was undamaged. I looked at the hole in the tubular steel strut it was supposed to go into; instead of being threaded, it was plain.

The answer was of course to thread the hole. Luckily I am the sort of chap who has thread gauges, taps and dies around the garage, so I wasn’t anticipating any problems. A quick turn or two with a 6mm metric tap and the job would be done. Or so I thought. Luckily I had the foresight to check the thread before getting going, and I discovered that whatever it was it certainly wasn’t metric but some strange Yankee thread; ¼ UNC or something like that. Without going too far into things it turns out I did not have a tap to suit. What to do?

A year or so before Natalie had bought me a very erudite book on clock repair; not the “how to clean it but leave the rest to the professionals” type but a “ how to do things no professional would waste time on” book. Among other tricks it suggested a way of making your own taps and dies for watch and clockmakers screws. Could I try the same trick? It looked possible although I would be working at a much larger scale.

I took a spare screw and shoved it in the 3 jaw chuck of my lathe (a Myford Super ML7 for any machine tool freaks out there!) and turned a slight taper onto the end of the thread. I then filed two cuts into opposite sides of the thread, reaching up about 4 thread widths. I widened the cut and backed off a little to give a cutting edge. I then hit the challenge; hardening the thing. I had no idea of the quality of the steel I was using; the clock screws the method was intended for are invariably high carbon steel and harden easily. I frequently make D-bits, counterbores and such things, but I always use silver steel, which I know exactly how to harden and temper. This screw was some nameless form of stainless with unknown hardening characteristics. I decided to be unsubtle. I heated it to cherry red in a blow torch and plunged it unto a container of filthy sump oil on the grounds it could probably do with some extra carbon in it…..

The resulting object was not a thing of beauty and I had no idea how long it would hold its edge. Luckily it only had to cut one or two turns. It managed that with no problems, and we finished the bed in time for our daughter’s bed time.

A typical piece of flat pack furniture, really, assembly instructions included, requires only simple hand tools plus;

Screw thread gauges,

Needle files,

Engineer’s lathe

Blow torch

A simple brazing hearth

Sump oil.

Knowledge of model engineering, gunsmithing or similar would help.

*I hope poor S2 has got over feeling twitchy about Homebase customer service. No? Oh dear.