Antenna Guru

RF is not 'black magic' – It's Synthesis, Optimization, Analysis and Realization.

Tag Archives: artisan

Art·is·an … (p. 3)

I put my little creation into an old Amazon box and addressed it to its new home. (Ideas feel sort of like children, but most of them don’t grow up and move away. So perhaps they’re more like gametes…) It too went to the UPS store but with hope instead of despair. On to what’s next!

I had decided to start machining right away. The little old round ram is going to require plenty of repair work, but cutting six more brass parts is not likely to add much further damage. Planning out and executing the steps to convert a bar of metal into precise metal parts, I began to see the world in a slightly different way… I noticed that clamping the little parts into the machinist vise made them change in length by 0.001 inch. The change went away when the part was un-clamped. I only have ±5 of those little inch-fractions to spare before my effort is in vain, so this was a nerve-wracking discovery.

In an attempt to put off the vanity of 0.005 inches as long as possible, I began to slow down. Check and double check. Imagine all the possible ways to remove metal, and how to finish with a good part. It was like chess except it wasn’t a game because the result would be helpful to somebody else. Win-win.

Everywhere I turn − something that works, something that moves, something that breaths– something is made up of parts that fit together in fantastic detail.


adjective /fanˈtastik/

  1. Imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality
    • – novels are capable of mixing fantastic and realistic elements
  2. Of extraordinary size or degree
    • – the prices were fantastic, far higher than elsewhere
  3. (of a shape or design) Bizarre or exotic; seeming more appropriate to a fairy tale than to reality or practical use
    • – visions of a fantastic, mazelike building
  4. Extraordinarily good or attractive
    • – your support has been fantastic

“Fantastic detail of reality”… ‘practical’ is ‘imaginitive’… ‘mundane’ is ‘exotic’…

If we slow down, check and double check, imagine the possible ways, we might begin to see the world in a slightly different way. I occasionally am able to glimpse the intimate connection of the ordinary to the fantastic. This is the joy of craft.

Art·is·an … (p. 2)

So I listed my HP 8753C on Ebay®, hoping for the best and not really expecting the worst, so not ready accept whatever happened. I wrote:

 I am selling my 8753C because I want to get a bench top milling machine to build housings and antenna parts. I have an older 8753A (!)  but I only need one network analyzer, so I have decided to sell this one. Nice to have two frequency sources, but oh well. :sigh:

Everything works AFAIK *except* you cannot store calibrations and retrieve them after the machine has been turned off.  I have not had it calibrated, but it gives good results.

I *am not* selling the test set, because I only have one of those. (Tip: you can use the cheaper 75 Ohm test sets over the full frequency range in 50 Ohm Z0 by purchasing a pair of ‘min loss pads’)

I got my starting bid of $1500 right way, so I was even more hopeful that this would help me afford a way to make prototypes. I had the listing up for ten days and didn’t … get … one … other  … bid.

I lost money on the deal, but worse than that I felt that once again I was caught in the cycle of hostility that is the universe. It was a sick feeling… No matter what I tried to do, I seemed once more destined to suffer debilitating failure– economically, intellectually, emotionally, …as a man. I was this tragically weird chimera of great ideas grafted onto … I don’t know, what is an antonym for successful, fulfilled and happy?…

Call me Ishmael… The illusion of being the ‘antenna guru’ is my version of mental illness… I have been banished by technology, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… The universe is malevolent and intends to do me harm…

Sadly, silently, I packed the network analyzer for its trip to California. As I carried the box down stairs I heard a sob. It was me. “When will I catch a break?” (I had already forgotten about the touch of the angel, perhaps, or perhaps I thought it was a random act that didn’t count.) I watched the network analyzer slip into the bottomless depths of the UPS store at 1:00 p.m. on Monday and drove home, dejected: What kind of crappy mill could I get for less than fifteen hundred dollars? Is this fun for you, God?

I was exhausted. Debi, my wife, was working. I flopped onto the couch, closed my eyes for a moment and…


…I woke up about two hours later, my computer on my lap. Out of sheer habit, I searched ‘Bridgeport’ in CL > houston craigslist > tools – all. There I read, “Bridgeport mill, everything works, $900, Conroe… I called. I drove. I saw. I purchased. The thing was filthy, piled high with decades of swarf and broken drill bits. The ways seemed tight, if un-oiled. I read the serial number, 8745, and looked it up on my smart phone. It had been made at the end of 1947, five years after Rudy’s patent was granted. It had a 115 volt motor of about the same vintage grafted onto it with a weird casting that couldn’t have been shop-made. The old man whose shop it was in also threw in a big clunky thing that looked like a lathe part grafted onto an angle plate. He had once used it to make broaches, he said. I could have it. I rigged the mill onto a rented trailer and into the corner of my garage in one piece. I spent a long day cleaning and adjusting it. I spent another $400-some-odd for tooling.

It’s a little old mill with a weird motor that was cast away by its shop owner because he had other, better equipment for his projects. But it also has the original art decco groove cast into it by Rudy, its maker. It seems to fit my heart and soul. I want to go make something…

Art·is·an …

OK, so the prototypes made last week are  working so far…







…which provided the motivation to sell some things and get myself a mill.

I have been studying mills for months now while waiting for the machinist from H-E-double-hockey-sticks to finally get ’round to my components. I started off thinking about computer control, but it was just too expensive to even imagine, plus there are plenty of small tasks that are better suited to the old-fashioned style manual turret mill. Just about all these things are made in China nowadays; nobody in this country wants to work that hard for that little money. The basic idea for the manual turret mill was conceived by Rudy Bannow, a patternmaker, in 1936. They say he was making a delivery to a customer when this idea came to him in a flash, so he sketched it out on a paper bag while sitting in his delivery truck. I decided I wanted one of Rudy’s machines.

US Patent 2,275,291,
“Machine Tool Operating at
Universal Angles in Overall Locations,”
Rudolf F. Bannow,
March 3, 1942 (filed April 4, 1939)

Rudy was an artisan who made patterns. He came up with one idea –one really good idea– that revolutionized the tool and die industry. Rudy invented the Bridgeport mill. There have been a few upgrades to his original paper bag sketch over the years: bigger motors, bigger spindles, stronger dovetail castings, and automation, but I wanted one of the originals. I wanted to be able to spend my time creating my prototypes with an artifact (something made or given shape by humans, such as a tool or a work of art). I wanted a tool that was a work of art.

This would require a pretty big chunk of cash, I figured $2500, because I would also need cutters, holding fixtures, measurement equipment, all the support stuff, plus there might be a significant freight charge… these things weigh a literal ton. All that I had to sell (all that I could afford to part with) was my HP 8753C. I was hoping to get enough out of it on Ebay® to (mostly) finance one of Rudy’s mills.

Crying in the Wilderness

So they said to him, “Who are you? We need an answer! What do you have to say for yourself?”

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