You don’t tug on Superman’s cape Sept 24, 2016


You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask from that old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Melissa. Any of you who have dealt with Melissa, our office manager, knows she is very professional, courteous, knowledgable and helpful. Occasionally, one of you will do something she has told you not to do. After she is done being helpful to you, she comes in and starts chewing me out. Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but she does give good advice and technical information which should not be dismissed. When she tells you “Do not put grease on your Reel Height of Cut gauge” don’t put grease on your gauge.

When we first used a rodless pneumatic cylinder for the carriage drive on the Peerless 2000, our first table top spin and relief grinder, we had a recurring problem of erratic travel. We had to replace several cylinders in some of those early machines during what I called “The Trip from Hell” ( a topic for another blog). The cylinders did not consistently travel smoothly so we tried using different greases, including a very expensive Teflon impregnated grease. The more expensive the grease, the worse the problem. I ran out of all the expensive greases for our test cylinder and the only thing we had in the shop was some cheap generic wheel bearing grease. I used that just so I could complete some other test and guess what. The cylinder travelled very smoothly. It turns out that one of the things that makes grease more expensive is it’s ability to adhere or stay on surfaces. This also leads to greater stiction (static friction) which is the resistance to initial movement. This is not normally a problem when these types of cylinders are used in a high speed process, but we use them in a low speed process where stiction is a significant factor. It turns out that cheap grease has low stiction but is more than adequate for lubrication and protection for our cylinder application.

What does this have to do with the Reel Height of Cut gauge. Simply, when you put grease on the indicator mechanism, it creates stiction which will prevent the gauge from working properly. The problem is not lack of lubrication but misalignment of the indicator. If you have this problem, you can ship the gauge back to us and we will re-align it no charge. You have to be careful when you re-align the indicator because you run the risk of damaging it. Also, we will be making a video in the near future to show you how to do this alignment on your own.



Is Everybody Happy? Sept 17, 2016


I have written before about the 1-2-3 rule where customers comments or complaints lead to design changes. One product where we looked for and got a lot of feed back is the RHOC Reel Height of Cut gauge. After it had been in use a while, we received comments about the quality of the dial indicator that we use on the gauge. It is an inexpensive model that is just as precise as the most expensive equivalent. Using this indicator helped us keep the price of the gauge affordable. This is also important because these gauges do get dropped and the only thing hurt is the indicator. Using the budget indicator makes repairs cheaper too. But there were folks who wanted more. So we added a digital indicator as an option. Still not satisfied, some preferred the analog style dial indicator but wanted high quality, so we added a top of the line Starrett dial indicator which is very pricy (more than the digital). Did that satisfy everyone? Of course not. Karl did a lengthy search for an alternative dial indicator that was better quality and was still affordable. What he found was the dial indicator pictured in the middle next to the current dial indicator and the digital indicator. It is about 3 ounces heavier (7 versus 4) and would add about $35 to the price of the RHOC gauge. Your input is going to be a big factor in whether or not we make this change. It is not practical to do both because the pricing is contingent upon us buying a certain number of indicators. It would also mean we would have to double our inventory also adding to the cost. So, let me know by clicking on either: Better Quality or Lower Price to send me an email with that as the subject or you can add a comment to our comments page. Remember in this election season, every vote counts!



Why not? Sept 12, 2016


“You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?’” George Bernard Shaw from Methuselah. This quote was also used or paraphrased by John F. Kennedy and his brothers in some of their most important speeches. This is fine for great social issues but not so much for deciding product design and features.

Those of you who know me know that I am something of an Apple fan boy. I have been using Macintoshes since 1984. Apple is known for their laser focus. Despite being the world’s most profitable company, they brag that all of the products they make fit on a conference table. They are just as focused on the product design, only including features that improve the product and that work as advertised. They will say no to 1000 good ideas for every yes. Other manufactures have a tendency to add every feature they can, check it off the list and see what sticks.

I was recently asked about an auto in-feed option for the Ideal 6000 bed knife grinder. This is not the first time and if you remember from The 1-2-3 Rule, when I get multiple requests for a feature, I do something. First, I will reexamine the idea, look at the plusses and minuses and try and determine if it is a good idea. If it is, I would then try to implement that concept. If it is not a good idea, I make sure to think it through to justify not implementing it.

When I developed the auto in-feed for the reel grinder, the challenge was to make it efficient. It could not take more time to set up than it saved. Almost no one I know of who has one of my competitors’ computerized reel grinders uses their full functionality, instead, they use the touch screens as a very expensive button to manually control the grinder. The reason given is that the computer is too complicated and takes too long to set up. If you in-feed the grinding wheel ten times on one reel and it takes about five seconds each time, that adds up to about one minute. Auto in-feed set up then has to take less than one minute or it is not saving any time. The fact that I did not have to compensate for bad mechanical design allowed me to use a simple counter to control the auto in-feed. Even with that, I would guess that about half the users who have our auto in-feed system use it on a regular basis.

We could easily transfer that technology to the Ideal 6000 Bed knife Grinder, but we would have to double it, doubling the cost and the set up time. That means it could take 2 to 3 minutes to set up. With our V-Support Pallet system, it only takes about 3 minutes to load and grind a bed knife. That means that without the auto in-feed it takes 3 minutes but with the auto in-feed it takes 5 minutes. Either way, that does not leave any time to go off and do something else. Now I can see that if your bed knife grinder takes 15 minutes to grind a bed knife, that auto in-feed might allow you to do something else while it is grinding but that does not solve the other main problem.

An automatic in-feed system is almost impossible to control the in-feed so that you remove the least amount of material. You will always over grind or under grind unless you constantly monitor the grinder. If you are going to do that, why have the auto in-feed? So auto in-feed costs more money, takes more time, and will shorten the life of the bed knife because of over grinding. Why not wins.

Take heart though. We are working on some ideas to reduce grinding times. This is actually pretty difficult when it already only takes 3 minutes.



Too Cool for School Sept 6, 2016


An update on my son’s 66 Mustang (see Sweet 66). When last we talked, the plan was to install the Old Air Products AC system over the Labor Day Holiday. The instructions could have been better but the installation went almost without a hitch. It took us about a day to do all of the mechanical installation. We took it to Quality Auto Air for the final steps of fitting the hoses and charging the system.

Everything worked okay except when he was in stop and go traffic. If he had to sit at a light, the engine would overheat and the AC would not cool. We thought this might be a problem and had planned on adding an electric fan if it was. Well despite the long hood on the Mustang, when you put a straight 6 in there, there is no room for a fan. The engine sits too close to the radiator. We had to settle for a 6 inch pusher fan. Karl started the engine before I got the chance to trim the tabs holding the fan in place. The fan bent them back and poked a small hole in an almost new radiator. A little Bar’s Leak and he was back on the road. The fan helped in stop and go traffic, but it still was running hotter than it should and would boil over when parked at night.


The next step was a new radiator. The original radiators in this car were different for the L6 and the V8 and had different versions for with and without AC. This radiator was just too small for the job. Not being an expert, selecting the right radiator was a little daunting. Copper or Aluminum, 2, 3 or 4 core, and tube size. Prices varied from just over $100 to well over $1,000. We bought the MaxCore OEM style from Virginia Classic Mustang. It had 2 cores using 1-1/4 tubes and was the largest non racing radiator for the 6 cylinder. I told Karl, I would install it while he was on vacation (see Vacation in Hell). I had some trouble getting it to fit because it was too close to the fan. When I went to install the fan shroud, I realized the mounting bracket for the shroud was missing. A quick call to Virginia Classic Mustang with the problem. Come to find out that the 66 mustang did not come with a shroud which would explain why it never fit right. I then realized that if the previous owner added a fan shroud, maybe he had the wrong fan as well. Digging through Karl’s collection of extra parts, we found two other fans. One fit perfectly. New hoses and clamps finished the job. Now the temperature gauge hardly budges and actually runs cooler with the AC on because the electric fan is switched on with the compressor. So now Karl’s Sweet 66 runs cool, blows cool and is too cool for school.


Full Circle August 26, 2016


I think I have always been a van guy. That is a little weird now but there was a time when it was really cool. I built pinewood derby cars as a cub scout. It had a jet intake nose with a cork in it. I could pull out the cork and add BBs to get the car to maximum weight. I graduated to Soap Box Derby, then sponsored by Chevrolet, where I won Best Engineering. My brother won the local race and went to Akron for the Nationals. He lost in a photo finish to the guy who won 3rd place. The next logical step was the Fisher Body Design competition sponsored by General Motors. Vans were just becoming popular beginning with the VW Microbus and later included the Ford Econoline, Chevy Greenbriar, and Dodge A100. The VW and the Chevy were both rear engine and drive while the Ford and Dodge had more conventional front engine rear drive. My dad told me that Renault in Europe made a small front wheel drive van. I am a little ashamed to admit that I have owned a number of Renaults, including a Dauphine, an R8 and an R10. In 1966, Oldsmobile came out with the front wheel drive V8 Toronado (Cadillac also had the El Dorado) which I think is one of the nicest cars to come out of Detroit. So my idea for the Fisher Body design competition was to design a van using the Toronado chassis. It seemed a perfect suck up to GM. The real problem was trying to make a box look futuristic. Before I could really get started, GM pulled the plug and discontinued the competition. A few years later they stopped sponsoring the Soap Box Derby because of several cheating scandals. In 1973, GM built a motor home based on this chassis and I like to think that is what my van would have looked like.

When I was in college, custom vans were all the rage. These were one off vans done by individuals or custom shops. I was getting ready to buy a Ford Pinto station wagon because in my mind, it was a cross between a Mustang and a van (think Mustang II). On my way to the dealership I saw a low mileage used 1971 Ford E100. My first van. I was working at Auto Parts Inc at the time and got a really good employee discount. I customized it including royal blue shag carpeting on the floor, walls and ceiling. At least it wasn’t multi colored shag. My last summer before going to the University of South Florida to finish my education, I went on a month long trip out west. When we were at the Petrified Forest, we saw a 1975 Econoline prototype. It had all of the badging removed. I went over to see what’s what and it was two engineers from Ford testing the dual AC system. The whole back of the van was filled with instrumentation and recording equipment. After a brief chat, I got the name of a recruiter in Dearborn, so we rerouted our trip. By the time we got to Michigan, we had been on the road for a month. I hadn’t shaved (not that I really needed to) or bathed in a week but I put on my cleanest clothes and went in. I don’t think he was very impressed and told me they only hired people from top schools like MIT. I asked him if Georgia Tech would be good enough. He said maybe. I had spent a year in college in New York and did not fare very well. When I left the interview, it was late May. It was over cast and there was a chill in the air. I new then that I wanted to be an engineer, just not in Michigan.

In the two and a half years I owned that van, I got pulled over by the police almost a dozen times. Talk about profiling a long haired hippie in a van. I never got a ticket. I think it is because they never found any drugs. I ran out of money my last year of college and had to sell the E100. I replaced it with a 1969 Chevy with a 6 cylinder and a two speed Powerglide transmission. You had to plan a week in advance if you wanted to pull into traffic. I got rid of it after only a couple of months.

I got married, finished college, got a job offer from Ford (turned it down) and bought a couple of VW’s including a Rabbit diesel. But I still needed a work van so I bought a used 1974 E300 which I kept for 10 years. Next came kids so we conformed and bought minivans including the original 1984 Dodge Caravan, fully loaded except for the 4 speed manual on the floor. In 1988, we bought SIP and I needed a new work van, a 1994 Dodge Ram Van. In 1998, I bought a couple of Ford conversion vans for my salesmen to tow our demo trailers. I then used one of them as my personal vehicle when the salesmen vehicles were upgraded. I added seats and it was perfect for hauling around softball teams. We still have that van (see Vacation in Hell). The salesmen had several different types of demo vehicles and trailers. All were maintenance headaches and money pits. Then in 2004, The Sprinter was made by Mercedes Benz and sold through Dodge and Freightliner dealers. We still have two of them and they have been great vehicles. One with 350,000 miles the other with 460,000. They averaged between 21 and 25 mpg and averaged about $1,000 per year for maintenance. We have retired one (see Out to Pasture) and are selling it. We just put a new paint job on it, repaired the windshield and fixed a few minor problems and now I don’t want to sell it. It was replaced by the new Dodge ProMaster (see Out with the old, in with the new) which is the front wheel drive van I was going to design for the Fisher Body competition back in 1967.


The 1-2-3 Rule August 20, 2016


We continually look for ways to improve our grinders. I have never liked the track shaft wipes that we use on all of our grinders. They get dirty and clumped up. Sometimes the adhesive doesn’t work and they fall off. They should be replaced annually. I have had a brush style wipe sitting in my drawer for years but could never figure out a good way to attach it to the carriages. A few weeks ago, we had just finished a batch of the dust wipe holders. There were a few parts left over including the tabs that get bolted to the carriage. Then it hit me. I don’t need to support the whole brush, I can clamp it to the carriage with these left over tabs. I tried it and it worked great. I tweaked the design a little and now it is our standard design. I did have to scrap out a whole batch of the old style wipes.

Ideas for improvements often come from comments or requests from our users. I call it the 1-2-3 rule. If one user asks for a feature, I will think about it. If two users ask for the same feature, I will really think about it. Once I have a third user asking for the feature, I will do something about it.

I was recently asked if we could add a shield to the Ideal 6000 bed knife grinder which would prevent coolant and grinding residue from landing on the track shafts. I had looked at this problem before and had not come up with a good solution. Anything I tried ended up interfering with the carriage travel. While discussing the issue with the user, I realized I had been looking at it all wrong. I didn’t need to attach the shield to the grinding head. If I attached it to the carriage, that would eliminate the interference problem. So I thought about it, decided it was a good idea and it is also our standard design

I have mentioned before in this blog that our users are customers for life. Whenever we find a way to improve the grinders, we also offer kits to our existing users. The Shield and Dust Wipes kit for the Ideal 6000, which includes both improvements listed above, is now available and is free for anyone who purchased their grinder in 2016. We are selling the kit at cost to anyone else who wants to upgrade their Ideal 6000 or 1100. We will also have a kit for the Peerless Reel Grinders in the near future that will work on any model from 1500 thru 7000.


Toro Elects Richard M. "Rick" Olson CEO August 13, 2016


I do not have a preference or endorse any of the mower manufacturers. When I am with my Deere dealers, I’m green. Jacobsen, I’m orange. At Toro’s southern California test facilities, I’m red. Honestly, all of them are doing a great job of innovating, especially with their cutting units. As they make their cutting units more precise and easier to maintain, it validates our grinder designs. This, however, got my attention and is worth passing on:

Jul. 19, 2016-- The Toro Company (NYSE: TTC) announced today that its board of directors has elected Richard M. Olson to the position of president and chief executive officer...Olson joined Toro in 1986 as a manufacturing process engineer.

He figures out how to make stuff. I love it when a company is run by an engineer. Click to read the complete press release.


Vacation in Hell August 6, 2016


My son, Karl, is General Manager for our shop while still going to school for Mechanical Engineering so he needed a well earned vacation. As an Eagle Scout , he hikes the Appalachian Trail. He already has hiked several hundred miles of the trail and was going to try and hike 150 miles in a week this year. He and his hiking buddy, Nick, were well prepared and were taking the company Ford van. He had put new tires on it and had a mechanic check it out for any other needed maintenance.

Everything was fine until they were within a half mile of their destination when the top hose blew. In north Georgia mountains on a Saturday afternoon, there were no garages or auto parts stores open. He called me and I told him to go ahead on his hike and I would figure something out. I found the hoses and planned on heading up there the following weekend to give them a ride back to the van and help him fix it. The second day on the trail, Nick blows out his knee and they can not continue. They call the closest auto parts store which has to order the hose. The next day, they get a ride to the auto parts store and then to the van.

It has been broken into and anything that was not nailed down was stolen including their clean clothes, his school back pack with his graphing calculator, the SunPass, an ugly yellow and blue pillow and a Yeti cooler. They called the local sheriff to report it and in the confusion, forgot to get their back packs out of their ride’s car. Since their keys were in the back packs, the ride had to come back to them. The deputy told them that they had not had a car broken into in three years which is exactly what Karl had been told when he called a week earlier to check. There had been one other car broken into that night where a gun was stolen. While they waited for the return of their back packs, they fixed the radiator hose.

Back packs returned and hose replaced, they hit the road; except something was terribly wrong. The engine was running badly and would not go over 50 mph. I told him that the spark plug wires on that engine were very susceptible to moisture and that he should check. In the mean time I called my good friend, John from Atlanta Athletic Club, which is located about one hour south of where they broke down. He graciously agreed to help them in his shop and even volunteered to drive up to help them. Thanks John. Ten minutes later, Karl called back. When the radiator hose blew, it knocked two of the spark plug wires loose. Once they were reattached, the van ran fine and they drove home without further incident, arriving at about 2:30 am.

So if you happen to call in to the shop for some technical support in the next couple of weeks, cut Karl a little slack. He really needs a vacation


Two and Out July 31, 2016

My daughter, Anne, has been on four national championship softball teams. Her first was 14 and under Little League, then two more with the University of Florida Club Team and finally her accounting firm has a national championship tournament for all of their offices. She was pitching in the 12 and under Little League state championship against our arch rivals. It was a pitchers duel. She had never pitched better. Her first pitch strike was almost 100%, usually a fast ball at the knees, painting the outside corner. Then she would throw her junk again almost always for a strike. After that, the batter would have to swing at anything and it was never in the strike zone. By the fourth inning, the opposing team coaches realized that the first pitch was the most hittable and told their players to swing away. Three pitches, three weak ground balls, three easy outs, the ultimate three and out. We ended up winning 1-0.

So what does this have to do with the video above? It shows a video of our chipper blade pallet option for the Ideal 6000 Bed Knife Grinder. It makes it easy to keep the chipper blades sharp so you would be inclined to sharpen them more often. What is not well known or is just forgotten, is that the bolts that hold the blade in place must be replaced regularly. If they are not, the blades will wreck holy havoc (as one of my customers learned the hard way). Check your manufacturer's recommendation but one reuse is common. Since most blades have two edges, you can reuse the bolts when the blade is rotated but then replace them every time you grind. Two times and out.

Yes, the tie in is a stretch, but it gave me the chance to brag about my daughter.


What a Cad July 23, 2016


I have been using CAD since 1978 when it stood for Computer Aided Drafting. It was strictly 2D and ran on an IBM 370 Main Frame Computer. It had dumb terminals (no computing power) that cost $10K each. The terminals were in a dark room because of the poor quality of the green screen monitor. And we were billed $50 per hour we were on the terminal. The official file was still a printed piece of paper which was still duplicated by a blueprint machine, an ammonia based process which did not smell very nice.

Over the years I have used a dozen different CAD programs Including CADAM, AutoCad and VersaCad. These evolved into CADD (computer aided drafting and design) which added 3D modeling. Later it became CADM (computer aided design and manufacturing) which linked it to CNC machines.

In the late 1980’s, you could buy decent 2D CAD software for a Mac or PC for a few hundred dollars. I had Claris CAD and MacDraft. In the mid 90’s, 3D was added when I bought Ashlar Vellum. It was vector based 3D, which could show a 3D line drawing of a part. In 1997, I bought my first 3D solid modeling program, MiniCAD. It was a little clumsy to use, but it could generate 3D solid models to give you a much better idea of what your design was going to look like. That company was acquired and the software became VectorWorks. I think I paid about $500 for MiniCad in 1997. Today, it is over $4,000 new. Because I hadn’t updated since 2009, it was going to cost me close to $3,000 just for the upgrade. I would have been happy with the 2009 version but it stopped working with the latest Mac operating system. I had a separate hard disk with the old operating system and I would have to reboot any time I wanted to work in VectorWorks, not really practical. VectorWorks informed me that I would no longer be eligible for upgrades after this year but that they had a special half off ($1,500) which included a years upgraded support and the 2017 version of the software. It would then cost me $700 a year to maintain this service and upgrades. So I bit the bullet and now have the latest version. It has some nice new features that are probably not worth $1,500 but it is significantly faster to work with and this has inspired me to start a major new design project I have been thinking about for several years. With any luck, I will have it for this year’s GIS.


Customer for Life July 16, 2016

We stopped making the Ideal 1000 Automatic Bed Knife Grinder ten years ago. Unlike other manufacturers who stop supporting equipment that is ten years old, we continue to find ways to make it better by offering upgrade kits. The 1000 V-Support upgrade kit is now available. It is based on the very popular V-Support Pallet for our current bed knife grinder, the Ideal 6000. Because the mounting v-supports are pre-aligned, loading takes only about 15 seconds. No alignment of the bed knife is required as it will automatically grind both the front face and the top face parallel to the mounting pivot bolts.

Thanks to the help of Ben Showard, we improved the original design so that now you do not have to give up the original bottom support method. It takes just a few minutes to convert from one to the other.

This is a video of one of our prototypes being tested. Caution, the technicians reaction may be R Rated.


What a Great Rack July 9, 2016


Oh come on, get your mind out of the gutter. I am obviously talking about our cutting unit rack. This is another one of those products where turf technicians were not happy with what was available so they built their own. Finally someone asked me if I couldn’t do better. I was a little skeptical because it was just a rack for holding cutting units. After looking at what was available and what some folks built themselves, I decided there was room for improvement. The main issues were that on commercially available racks, almost half the storage space wasn’t practical. The shelves were either too high or you had to slide the cutting unit in from its end.

Two design features addressed these short comings. The first is an underslung bottom shelf where the top of the bottom shelf is level with the top of the caster which significantly lowers the rack. The second is fully adjustable shelves allowing you to optimize the storage based on your cutting units. It was also important that the rack is solid, so we made an all welded frame.

This created two new problems. Welding is expensive. That is the reason the automotive industry first used robots for welding the car bodies. This also creates a large, bulky item which is expensive to ship. We had to come up with a design that could break down into small packages but still maintain the strength and rigidity of our welded design. It took a few tries but this is what we came up with. You can see the assembly video here and you can order them from your local dealer or on line from Turf Addict


Follow the Bouncing Ball July 1, 2016

Contrary to popular belief, there was no bouncing ball on the Sing Along with Mitch TV show. For those of you too young to recognize this reference, It was a cross between karaoke and America’s Got Talent. The bouncing ball actually dates back to movie theater sing-a-longs which played before the feature presentation.

Bouncing balls may be good for sing-a-longs, but they are not good for grinding reels. There are two brands of reel grinders that use spinning shafts and sliding hubs. One has the mechanism mounted on springs and one does not. If you in-feed the grinder with out the springs, you will deflect the shaft enough to make it go out of balance. Once it does that, the grinding wheel will only grind on one side and it will severely damage the reel. To prevent that from happening, the other brand suspends the grinding mechanism on springs. This limits the force you can use to grind so that you can not deflect the shaft. This means that you will remove the same amount of metal per pass regardless of whether you in-feed .005 inches or .050 inches.

The claim has been made that the bouncing shaft is the reason that you can get a small amount of relief during spin grinding, making single blade relief grinding unnecessary. In fact, all brands of spin grinders will get that relief if you grind hard enough because it comes from the flex or play in the reel itself and has nothing to do with the grinder.

The bouncing shaft and hub resulting in relief does not make sense on another level. Valve float is when you over rev an engine and the natural frequency of the spring and valve is less than the rpms. The spring can’t close the valve and it hits the top of the piston, not a good thing. This can typically happen on automobile engines at about 8,000 to 10,000 rpm. If we take the spinning shaft of the spring loaded grinder, we can see that the mechanism being supported by the springs has a much greater mass than an engines valve and spring. If the reel is being spun at 300 rpm and has 11 blades, it will be hitting the grinding wheel at 3,300 ipm (impacts per minute). Worst case would be maximum speed of 400 rpm with a 15 bladed reel resulting in 6,000 ipm. So it is very likely that this large mass is not bouncing fast enough to hit all of the blades equally. You are very likely getting “valve float” which results in the blades being ground to different lengths. We have seen variations of as much as .005 inches. If you are having this problem, you should try slowing your spin speed down and not in-feeding so hard… or you could buy a different grinder.

Happy Dominion Day (Canada Day?) and Fourth of July (Independence Day?).




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