I recently reposted the story of my ill fated road trip to Long Island to collect my grandfather’s tools following his passing. Just a few short months later we lost my wife’s maternal grandad, Benjamin Parran III.
Ben was a WWII Marine, an MIT alum, and a retired GE engineer. He loved an audience and would tell and retell tales of wartime engineering and hijinks at every opportunity. During the war Ben once commandeered a damaged Jeep and lowered it down a well, converting it to a pump to supply water to his camp. Later in life he built a zip line on the family’s Cape Cod property for his grandchildren, designed and built an elevator for his wife Betty, who had been affected by a stroke, and created heirloom quality wood furniture for his extended family. In his twilight years Ben became fascinated with wind chimes and experimented with different tube lengths and materials to achieve perfect pitch. He was driven by that type of curiosity and pursued it in his backyard workshop until his dying days. We should all be so lucky.
In his later years Ben had also come to spend a lot of time, and money, at Harbor Freight. If you’re reading this you’re probably an enthusiast of tools of some sort, and have probably had some of the same mixed experiences with Harbor Freight tools that I have. Screwdrivers whose blades chip off just trying to twist a screw into a wall anchor, titanium drill caps exploding in use – maybe even during the very FIRST use, bench grinders that come to a complete stop the instant pressure is applied to them, I could go on and on. Harbor Freight is not without its merits, and bargains, but in my experience working with HF tools you must ask yourself a few pre-purchase questions; 1.) If this tool fails, will it kill me? 2.) Will I use this tool frequently enough that it’s worth buying a higher quality brand name version? 3.) Am I saving enough money to have gotten my money’s worth from this tool when it eventually fails spectacularly?
Over the thirteen years I’ve known my wife, Ben and I bonded over a mutual appreciation of tools, mechanical processes, and a shared curiosity of how things work. Around Christmas and birthday time this often made me the benefactor of Ben’s generosity, and his most recent trip to Harbor Freight. For one of these occasions I received a Harbor Freight bead roller kit.
Ben was a master woodworker and fabricator, but he was never shy about his appreciation for some of the mechanical projects I was willing to pursue. That said, he sometimes gave me more credit than I felt I was due, and the bead roller definitely fell into the “this is cool, but I’m not sure what to do with it” category. Then, the rusted remnants of the floorboards of my 1940 Plymouth project gave me the perfect opportunity to figure it out.
Recalling past experiences with HF tools I decided to do some online research about the bead roller kit prior to assembly and use. The primary complaint from users was frame flex, which allows the rollers to walk away from one another rather than run a tight groove. I also saw a lot of comments about the crank on the roller being awkward to use. And of course, lots of people had lots of ideas to improve these deficiencies. I took a page out of Ben’s book – gathered up some materials from my shop, fired up the welder, and got to work.
First I pulled an old steering wheel, an accessory drive pulley, a pipe with a one inch I.D., and two pieces of scrap angle iron out of my parts pile. The wheel would replace the crank handle, making it easier for me to operate the machine by myself. In my research I also found that some people motorized their rollers and I thought I might do the same at a later date. I welded the pulley to the steering wheel so I’ll be ready to add power in the future, and laughed to myself at the thought that Ben would have produced a perfectly matched electric motor from someplace in his shop and motorized it immediately. Next, I drilled and tapped the pipe for a set screw to connect it all to the roller shaft, and welded that to the opposite side of the pulley. Then, to strengthen the frame I welded a length of angle above and below the roller’s throat to eliminate flex during operation.
At some point in the future I may fabricate a fancy frame and mount a motor, but for now with just a little bit of work this thing does a pretty good job of rolling beads while clamped in a bench vise. The beads are not super deep, and the largest die in the kit is 1/2 inch, but it performs better than its provenance would suggest. It’s also easy to operate on my own and will allow me to create strong beaded floor patches in 18 gauge sheet. The end result is pretty impressive when you look at the total investment. I think Ben would be pleased.