Thursday, August 13, 2009

Motorizing a slab roller, part one

It started with a Northstar slab roller.

Well, no, I take it back, it started with a backache.

See, I have a bad back. Too many years of hard labor, added to the fact that I'm only five feet tall. OK, a little taller in work boots. Still, lifting sheets of plywood, or flipping an armoire on it's side has taken it's toll on my spine.

When I roll out slabs of clay to make tile, it hurts. Not right then; it hurts the next day, or two, or seven. So working with clay has gotten more and more difficult over the years. I needed a better way.

Now I'm lucky. I have some friends that are MUCH smarter than me, and I turn to them when I'm having one of those "how the hell do I do this?" moments. So last year, when I was suffering from a horrible backache, I asked my buddy Dave, who by the way, is a genius, to help me figure out how to motorize my slab roller.

I'm not making it up about Dave being a genius. He is. And even better, he's a motion control expert. He's worked for years in the field of automation, and is the go-to guy if you're looking to automate something within your business.

So the first thing Dave suggested was pulling off the huge crank wheel, so see what we had to work with.

Simple enough, there was a 5/8" shaft.

Now have you ever met someone who is so smart, they can calculate things in their head in seconds, when it would have taken you hours to do all the calculations? So giving Dave some rough dimensions of the space I had to work with was all he needed.

First thing he had me do was add a shelf underneath, so I would have a place to bolt down a motor. The height wasn't entirely critical, but I knew I was going to need about 16" between that pulley and the one I would mount below. So I measured accordingly, and started building my shelf. Here are the 2x4's on the each end.

Then I added some cross pieces, to beef it up.

Lag bolts hold the legs together. I forgot to mention that almost all of this material was stuff I had laying around the woodshop. So I walked over to my "lag drawer" and looked for some appropriate sizes.

Yes, that's an old library card catalog. Excellent for storing stuff in the woodshop.


Well, not so fast. There wasn't a
way to get a plywood shelf in place without removing one of the legs.

So off came the leg. (I had to prop up the slab roller with a shop cart, to keep it from tipping over while the leg was off.)

And on went the shelf.

With the leg back in place, the first part of this retrofit is starting to shape up.

Another buddy of mine had donated a small motor to this project, so just for the heck of it, I hooked it up.

With some luck, I realized I'd put that mounting shelf in the perfect place for the motor belt that I'd purchased. (What's that line about even a broken clock being right twice a day?)

So.. it all looks pretty great, right?

Well, not really.

The first time I plugged in the motor and fed a piece of clay through the rollers, I ended up with a huge splat of clay on the wall, ten feet away.

Back to the drawing board.

Which brings me back to Dave. A couple of phone calls and a little begging, and ... well... stay tuned for part two.

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