My name is Murray Pearson, and I hereby nominate myself for consideration in the 2016 What’s In Your Box toolbox giveaway. I am a machining student at Rosemount Technology Centre (RTC) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. While I already have a toolbox, of sorts, and a basic collection of machining tools has been purchased at a reasonable cost through the school program, the possibilities that would open up with a collection like this are inspiring!
So, why do I merit such a fine award? I think I could make great use of these tools, and in a sense, with my machinist training I am returning to deep family roots in metalworking. My grandfather, Percy Hambleton, was a mechanical engineer and the owner of Dispatch Engineering of Greymouth, New Zealand: a foundry established over 150 years ago by my ancestors after they moved to New Zealand from Scotland. Percy was an inspiring man who worked on a great many projects in his career. Right out of engineering school, at the end of World War II, he moved from the relative safety of New Zealand to Blackburn, England and worked at Rolls-Royce on developing two of their first three jet engines: the Derwent and the Nene.
Since I lived just about on the exact opposite side of the planet, I did not get to spend a lot of time with my grandfather; but the time we did spend together make a permanent impression on my life. He ignited my passion for aircraft and spacecraft around 1980, which remains a key interest in my life today. These experiences, a lifetime ago, remain with me to this day. Percy died in the early 1990s of Alzheimer’s, and I flew out to see him as he approached his last days, in August 1992.
While Percy was my maternal grandfather, my father Frank Pearson was influential in leading me to technical fields too. He was a civil engineer and environmental engineer: early in his career, in 1962-’63, he took time off from his job as a highway surveyor to participate in a mapping expedition of Antarctica! (There’s a mountan named after him, at 72°15’S, 166°45’E in Victoria Land, which he climbed on January 14, 1963.) Frank was instrumental in getting me onto computers in the early 1980s, and I would also pore through his plans for mine water treatment systems in California. He died of lung cancer in 2002.
It was following in his footsteps that I studied civil engineering at Concordia University, where I completed three years of the program. There I learned a great deal about the properties of metals, about the behavour of structures (including the design of steel building frames), and most of all, the mechanics of materials. When that course started I had no idea what it was about, but it changed my approach to making things entirely! Suddenly so many things simply made sense, in a way they didn’t before.
Unfortunately, in my third year of studies, stress from outside my school life made it impossible for me to continue, and I was obliged to drop out in 2011. But I continued applying my learning as a Maker, learning more about electronics and microcontrollers like Arduino as well as applying CAD/CAM techniques to build objects using the laser cutter at SpikenzieLabs on 1/32” and 1/64” aircraft-grade birch plywood. Combined with basswood strips and cyanoacrylate superglue, I found I could make some pretty outrageous (and structurally impressively efficient, and really tough) creations. One experiment I did in 2011 was a basswood truss 36 inches long, weighing only 120 grams (four ounces!), which was strong enough for me to lift my eight-year-old son! Since he weighed 65 pounds, that’s a structural efficiency of almost 25,000%!
In the fall of 2013, I participated in a hardware hackathon at a local makerspace called Foulab. We had nine hours in which to “make something.” I built a twin-engine, swing-wing, radio-controlled, Arduino-fly-by-wire rocket-powered boost-glider, and won third place! (First and second place were really pretty impressive, as you can imagine.) I just edged out a fellow named Lambert, who gave me a ride home and told me about the makerspace he was planning to open, called Helios Makerspace. About a year later, Helios was operating and I bought a membership; and in the fall of 2015 I joined Helios staff as a volunteer workshop mentor. The original vision of Helios was to focus on electronics, 3D printing and such; but member demand has turned out to be really strong in woodworking and, when we moved to a larger space in January 2016, we set up a 1200 square foot wood shop in addition to an equal space for other activities.
Now, I’d had some exposure to wood and metal shop (and drafting) in Industrial Arts class back in the mid-1980s; that was really the best part of junior high school for me. So I jumped back into the wood shop quite eagerly, but there in the back was a piece of hardware I recognized from school days which had always held a special mystique for me. I can now confidently, and specifically, identify it as a Colchester Student metal lathe. It brought me right back to 1984 or so, when I machined a centre punch (which we case-hardened afterwards) and a brass model cannon. This particular one’s used by a member of Helios to make wooden flutes, much like Sebastian Mayfield’s ones.
In the meanwhile, my partner Deann had begun a cabinetmaking course in the evenings at RTC, and she was really enjoying it. I investigated their programs and looked into Machining Techniques. At this point I was really pretty ignorant of machining, notwithstanding my grandfather and the friends I’d had over the years who were machinists. But I was intrigued at the idea of metalworking, and I decided to look around on YouTube; the woodworking videos I’d seen with Paul Sellers had been quite nice. This was, arguably, one of the greatest decisions I have ever made!
I stumbled across Adam Booth doing some truly ABOM-scale work and was enthralled. Then I found Keith Rucker, and watched him working on the Vance planer-matcher at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture. Eventually he needed to get a belt pulley made, and he sent it off to a fellow named Keith Fenner. “That’s an odd beard he’s got,” I thought, and sat down to watch. The PlasmaCAM blew me away (as it were!) and the process of watching that profile shape the cast-iron pulley on the lathe with the tracer attachment led directly to a subscription to the Turn Wright channel. I could see all of the techniques I had been compiling in my life coming together to a glorious, and creative, and thrilling process.
THIS IS FOR ME.
That was about March of 2016. I honestly have no idea how many machining videos I have watched since then, but it’s got to be in the thousands of hours now. The information I picked up put me way ahead of my class when it started in May, and has continued to do so; I am consistently ahead of everyone else in the class in project work, and the precision of my work attests to the quality of the training I have informally picked up. We are now in the fourth week of External Cylindrical Turning and Longitudinal and Transverse Milling, so we are still early in the program (there’s about another year remaining before graduation) but I am eating this stuff right up.
Loving every minute of it.
So, what’s in the future? Honestly, I don’t know, but the possibilities lay before me. Already I’m collaborating with Deann, combining woodworking and machining by building a wooden liner and tray for my old red toolbox to safely hold and transport my tools for school. The tray’s really nice, made from poplar with box joins and a rebated laminated base, and a holder for my little screwdriver made of an exotic tropical hardwood. We may collaborate on unique furniture, with fitting and hinges made from steel and brass connecting beautiful marquetry panels. I’m also finding I really enjoy tool-making, so I may pursue a certificate in tool and die making (which will be in French, a language I know pretty well); and we’re considering moving to Germany around 2020 so I’ll probably be trilingual by then.
I can also put my metal expertise to use, bringing old tools and machines back to productive use. I have restored a number of woodworking tools for Deann, like these Stanley planes; and we’re slowly building a basement shop in our home. There, I am wiring the place; building the walls and insulating it to avoid annoying the neighbours; adding ventilation and heat-exchangers to get fresh air year round. We’re building workbenches together, and we’ll have modular machine stations so a relatively small space can be as versatile and useable as possible.
In the meanwhile, I continue working with Helios. I’m a member of the Executive Council now, and we’re reaching out to schools to offer their students the sort of opportunities I was lucky enough to have in Industrial Arts. It’s a great place, and it’s a real privilege to contribute. We’ve got pretty strong ties to RTC already, and we’re growing those; we hope to be able to obtain a milling machine or lathe from them in the future when they upgrade their shop. I’m getting my son involved there, too; he just turned 13, and is a wonderful, funny, caring young man.
Thank you for your time and consideration. My video is posted at https://youtu.be/6QZi4LzZAw4