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My Basic Grinder Set-Up

I wanted to share a few words about my simpleĀ  angle grinder set-up and a few things I’ve learned so far.

First off, here is the grinder I use. It’s a simple Hitachi angle grinder I picked up at Lowes:

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I took off the side handle and the blade guard that came with it. Although these make the grinder safer to use, they make the tool too hard to maneuver for my purposes. I have no complaints so far with this grinder, and I’ve been using it regularly for almost a year. I’ve used it pretty hard as well.

Now for the attachments I use.

To start with, there is the basic heavy duty grinding wheel. It removes a lot of material relatively quickly:

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But what if you want to remove less material for finer grinding and polishing? For this, I use a sanding pad disk. This actually has lasted longer than I anticipated it would. It is perfect for cautiously removing material from a project:

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Next, I’ve become a huge fan of the simple cutting disk:

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This one is quite a bit used, so it’s naturally smaller than a new one. I love these disks because they are so flexible. They also cut faster as opposed to a crosscut saw.

Next, I have a twisted wire brush attachment:

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This one bears a bit of explanation. When I first started, , I bought one of these for polishing and cleaning up metal:

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It didn’t last very long at all (especially considering the price I paid for it!). Here is what it looked like after a short time of use:

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After this, I bought the twisted wire one pictured first. It has done an excellent job! It cleans up dirty steel very quickly.

 

So anyway, that’s the basic set-up! With these few attachments, the grinder becomes one of the most important and versatile pieces of equipment in the shop. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and ask!

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What I’ve Learned About Product Photography

1. Good product photography is very important for selling online

All the experts agree: it’s worth it to spend a lot of effort in good product photography when you’re selling online. That’s what sells a product to someone who is shopping on the internet. At first, I thought having a cool name was more important. I spent a lot of time trying to come up with catchy names for my stuff. This didn’t turn out to be all that effective. While having a good name is important, people who are shopping on the internet usually look for a simple, literal name for the product while expecting the picture to show what distinguishes the item.

2. Simplicity is king

At first, I used photo editing software to make a single picture which was really a collage of several different photographs of the item along with a description of the item in the photo itself. I thought it looked good at the time, but since then I’ve come to realize that it is much too cluttered and doesn’t fit very well with the medium of the internet. Your photo must look good in any size – even thumbnail. The prospective customer should always be able to tell what the item is.

In addition, the photo itself should be as free from distractions as possible. Solid backgrounds are preferable, pure white is the best. It makes the item pop out, even in a small thumbnail image, and white backgrounds are universally good-looking on the internet.

3. The item in action

While the main photo should be a pure and distraction-free image of the item, there should also be a secondary photo of the item in action. There is more variation in preference on how these should look. In general, it should be stylish, fairly simple, easily seen, and easily grasped by the viewer.

This secondary photo is the next step in the sales pitch of the item. The main photo is the hook to grab those who are interested in the item. The secondary photo shows off the item in a fashionable setting that helps the viewer imagine it in his own context.

4. Good lighting

Now, in order to make the actual photo look good, you don’t need the most expensive equipment. One of the most important things is good lighting. Spend a lot of time on this. I experimented for a while to find a good lighting set-up, and once I did, I saw a marked improvement in the quality of my product photos. With really good lighting, even photos taken on a cell phone can look really good.

First, you want to have light coming from multiple directions. This helps cancel out shadows. Shadows against your background are bad. They are distracting and ugly-looking. Here is an example of a badly-lit product photo:

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Industrial Spring Business Card Holder/ Desk Art

You can see how the shadow takes away from the presence of the item. Here is a different example of a well-lit product photo:

Hand Forged Texas Star Trivet - Housewarming Gift, Wedding Gift, Anniversary Present
Hand Forged Texas Star Trivet – Housewarming Gift, Wedding Gift, Anniversary Present

Although some shadows are present, the lighting set-up I used softened or canceled out most of them.

If you can use bright natural light, that can sometimes work best. However, I’ve found that it’s easier to control the environment indoors. In that case, you want to get some heavy-duty light source. A desk lamp or ceiling light doesn’t cut it. I bought a 500 watt halogen flood light from an auto store:

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This works really well. (Incidentally, I got this photo off of the internet. Note how well it is lit and the absence of shadows.) In order to soften the light, I’ve used a sheet of white paper to act as diffuser in front of it. I’m still experimenting on this, though, and I hope to come up with a better solution in the future.

In order to get light coming from multiple directions, I supplement this lamp with a 100 watt desk lamp and my overhead ceiling light. These do okay, but in the future I will probably purchase another 500 watt flood light.

5. Get a good studio

As I said earlier, having a clean, white background is really important for the main shot. How do you achieve this? Well, there are several ways. Here’s a couple of articles I found on making your own lightbox to showcase your items in:

http://www.studiolighting.net/homemade-light-box-for-product-photography/

http://www.handmadeology.com/creating-a-white-background-inside-a-cardboard-box/

http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent/

Personally, I’m using a large sheet of white paper draped down from my wall onto my desk like this:

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I like how this eliminates the corner in the very back.

Bottom line: find what works for you!

6. Touch-up your pics

Some of the imperfection in my set-up can be made up for with a little photo editing. Even professional photographers often use a little post-production on their product photography. In particular, you can erase some ugly shadows this well as well as enhance the brightness and the vivacity of the colors. For the software, I recommend the free program GIMP for Windows, Linux, or Mac. In addition, I have also found the online photo-editing app Pixlr to be very nice to use.

There’s way too much to talk about in regards to good photo editing. I suggest you do a little research on the subject.

In addition, I’ve found a free online tool that purportedly does much of this automatically for you called FotoFuze. I’ve only just started to test it, but the results seem very promising. Here is what it did that that previous photo of my trivet:

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Pretty cool, huh?

7. Misc Resources

Finally, here are some links to some more good reading on product photography:

http://www.handmadeology.com/category/product-photography-tips/

http://blog.helenalapetite.com/2012/10/6-things-every-blogger-should-know.html

http://content.photojojo.com/diy/you-only-need-5-things-to-make-your-own-home-studio/

 

 

I hope this article was useful to you! Feel free to leave any more tips you might have or questions in the comments.

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Food-Grade Metal Finishes

So I build a texas star trivet today as an experiment for a new product. I ended up coating it with a clear lacquer, which looks really nice and will work for this application, but it got me to thinking about food-safe finishes in the event I ever make items that are supposed to touch food directly that aren’t made of stainless steel..

First of all, all lacquers, acrylics, etc are non-toxic and completely safe when cured, but that is different from being certified food-grade. Bottom line: if I do want to make some products that can be used safely in the kitchen for preparing food, IĀ  want to make sure that they have food-grade finishes.

I did some digging online, and have found that the best one for me would probably be beeswax (possibly mixed with mineral oil). It’s completely food-safe, and will protect the piece from rust and help it maintain it’s nice metal look. I’ve seen it recommended for metal different places and found a professional blacksmith who uses it.

Some people use flax-seed (linseed) oil to coat their metal stuff. It turns out there are two types of linseed oil: raw and boiled. The boiled has additives to it to make it cure faster, so I don’t think it’s certified food-safe, although it still is non-toxic. To be fully food-safe, it needs to be raw linseed oil.

Although it’s written for woodworkers, this article is a good resource for food-safe finishes: http://www.finewoodworking.com/how-to/article/food-safe-finishes.aspx

Hand Forged Texas Star Trivet - Housewarming Gift, Wedding Gift, Anniversary Present
Hand Forged Texas Star Trivet – Housewarming Gift, Wedding Gift, Anniversary Present
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Brazing Stainless Steel

Not having any formal training in metalworking, I end up having to figure out a lot by myself as I go – often the hard way. I learned a lesson today when I came to a project that required me to braze a piece of stainless steel pipe to another piece of steel.

I got it to work with my oxyacetylene torch and flux-coated bronze brazing rods, but it was ugly, uneven, and popped and sputtered as I was doing it. I really wondered why, so I looked it up online. It seems that it’s best to use a special kind of flux along with a silver-based brazing rod when you’re working with stainless. Good to know!

Here’s an interesting read on the subject: http://morebeer.com/brewingtechniques/library/backissues/issue2.6/palmer.html