Thursday, June 02, 2005

details, details

I am slowly building an airplane. Yes, a real airplane. In fact, it's a Vans RV-7a, a two-seat, aluminum airplane that real people get in and fly around. The part I really like about it is puttering around the workshop: I usually don't have to think so much and can mostly focus on doing, which is a nice change from how I normally spend my time. The part I don't like about it is the logistical headaches. Case in point: the compressor.

Why do you need a compressor to build an aluminum airplane? Well, back in the Old Days, a well equipped carpentry shop that had power tools had The Steam Engine. There was only one of them, it was big, and it sat off to one side making a wheel go round and round. Off that wheel came a series of belts and pulleys that went to all parts of the shop. When you wanted to use your power tool, you'd hook it up to the nearest belt, and as the belt turned, so would your tool. Later on, we made the steam engine even bigger and moved it miles away[1], but instead of running belts we made the engine turn a generator and ran miles of wires. Then we put an electric motor in each tool to turn the electricity back to a wheel going round and round, to turn your electric drill. Today's compressors are a throw-back to the old days: the shop has a compressor in it and air hoses going around. If you want to run your rivet gun, rivet squeezer, high speed drill, or paint spray-gun, you plug into the nearest air hose and off you go.

Yesterday, I was spraying some stuff on aluminum parts to keep them from corroding when the compressor seized. This is the second time it's done it, so there's probably something broken in the compressor. Now, the compressor is roughly the size and shape of R2D2, black, and weighs something like 75 pounds. And it's got oil in it, so you can't lay it down.

I know nothing about compressor repair.

Logistic problem #1: Where do you take a compressor to get it fixed? Especially one you got on eBay? Do compressor repairmen (assuming they exist) make house calls?

Logistic problem #2: Assuming they don't make house calls, or that it's too expensive, how do you get the compressor to Mr. Fixit? I drive a small convertible with leather seats, thoroughly impractical for hauling. The compressor's a little weighty to hitch behind my bicycle. So it looks like I may have to borrow or rent a truck.

Logistic problem #3: If a compressor dies, how do you dispose of one? It's basically a huge chunk of steel, so it should be recyclable, but I don't think the curb-side people will pick it up, at least without special arrangements.

Logistic problem #4: I don't have enough money at the moment to replace a compressor, or to repair one.

Last night, I was able to get it to un-seize by fiddling with it. So, the current solution is just to limp along with the compressor as-is until I get a bit more money and then worry about repair or replacement. Unless I decide to pull out a socket set and get an education in compressor repair.

[1] Don't believe me? Take a look at a nuclear power plant some time. It's basically a high tech turbine steam engine that burns uranium instead of coal.

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