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February 2013 Archive for In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

One More Thing Not To Drop Your Cell Phone Into

Feb 26, 2013

 Add "used engine oil" to the list of things that cell phones can't tolerate.

We all know, by personal experience or the experiences of others, that cell phones don't like water. It doesn't matter if the water is in a toilet, a cattle waterer, or the live well in a fishing boat--cell phones have no sense of humor about being immersed in H2O. I've heard they also don't like liquid hog manure, a full rate of Treflan, or Texas-style chili.

Today my cell phone took a dive into a 5-gallon bucket full of used engine oil. The only bucket within 50 feet, but it managed to find it. It was quickly rescued and thoroughly rinsed with electric contact cleaner, and for a while there was hope I'd be able to resuscitate it. I was eventually able to dial and make calls, and it would ring and accept calls. I could hear the person talking on the other end. But I was never able to resurrect the microphone. So now I can listen on the phone, but nobody can hear me if I talk.

My wife thinks my "new" phone is wonderful.

Not An Ad For A Cool Shop Tool

Feb 18, 2013

 This is not an advertisement or endorsement of any tool, machine or device. It's just one tool enthusiast sharing with other tool junkies something he found.

There's a place in California called Williams' Low Buck Tools ( that has all sorts of cool, economical shop tools. One of them that caught my eye is a thing called "The Metal Machine," which owner Dave Williams calls his "10-in-1" machine because it will do 10 different metal working and sheet metal processes.

Dave uses a different strategy to reduce purchase price and shipping costs: he has the buyer build a basic metal sawhorse frame with a large metal C-frame on top that various metal and sheet metal working devices can be attached to. You can buy as many or as few of the devices as you have need for. When you buy the first device, Dave gives you a very simple-to-follow diagram so you can build the basic support frame yourself.

Dave told me that he discovered most of the people buying his metal-working tools were good enough metal workers so that they could save money by building the basic stands and supports for his devices. "Why should they pay me to build something they could easily build themself in a day or less?" he said. "That way all they have to buy from me is the actual precision device or unit that attaches to the basic frame to do the actual metal working."

Once the basic frame is built it's easy to bolt one of 10 metal working devices to it, including an English Wheel, Planishing Hammer, Sheet Metal Shear, Louver Press, Deep Throat Sheet Metal Punch, Deep Throat Shrinker, Box and Pan Sheet Metal Brake, Bead Roller, and 90-degree forming dies.

Not every farmer does sheet metal work, but it you do, or if you have hobbies that involve metal work--check out the Low Buck Tools website. Not because I'm advertising for him, but because he's got some neat stuff for reasonable prices. In fairness to other metal products retailers, once you check the Low Buck Tools site, shop around for similar tools on other websites, compare prices, features and performance, then buy from the retailer that best fits your needs.

If You Traded Planters...

Feb 13, 2013

 If you traded planters since last spring, take time this winter to ensure you've got all your ducks in a row for when it comes time to hook your new planter to your tractor.

If you traded at a dealership, check with the mechanic who checked/prepped the planter before you took it home. With luck you made it part of the deal for him to connect the planter to your tractor, so he'll be the one with a headache from trying to figure out which hoses go where. Just be certain to MARK EVERY HOSE AND WIRING HARNESS before you disconnect them once you get the tractor and planter home.

If you bought the planter at a farm sale or "outright," then it's up to you to figure out where all those hoses and electrical wiring harnesses go. Start with deciphering if your tractor has enough hydraulic couplers and hydraulic capacity for that planter.

Every planter is different, depending on its manufacturer, its model number and the different options that have been added. But in general, you need to have on your tractor enough hydraulic outlets to power all the hydraulic systems on the planter. If it's an "air" planter, you'll probably have to have some sort of case-drain coupler or motor-return coupler on the tractor. If the hoses aren't marked to tell what each one operates and where it should plug into the tractor, somebody is going to have to trace each hose from the front of the hitch back to the component it controls, in order to figure out how it should be coupled to the tractor. While you're checking and matching hydraulic components, take time to make sure your (older) tractor's hydraulic pump can produce enough gallons per minute to satisfy the oil-hungry hydraulic motors on large, modern planters.

It's also a good idea to compare the electrical needs of the planter to the amp-output of the tractor's alternator. If the planter has a one or more electrically powered air compressors for row shutoffs and pneumatic downpressure systems, plus the seed monitor system, plus electric clutches that shut off the seeding units when turning on could blow fuses or trip circuit breakers some evening this spring when you turn on the tractor's lights while the air conditioning is running full-tilt. 

The important thing is to check out all those hydraulic and electrical connections now, and not the day before you want to start planting. If you're hooking up to a 16-row or larger planter for the first time, it will probably take at least half a day and one or more trips to the local dealership to figure everything out.

Overlooked Planter Maintenance

Feb 07, 2013

 Customers are starting to think about planting, and I'm getting more questions about what to fix or repair on planters. Everybody is pretty well up-to-speed on replacing worn disk openers and identifying frozen or failed closing wheel bearings. Here are a few items that sometimes get overlooked during planter maintenance:

-If the disk openers are replaced, replace the "frog," the "divider" or whatever you call that tapered metal piece that fits snugly between the front edges of the disk openers at the bottom of the row unit's shank. That chunk of metal is a type of scraper, and needs to lightly rub the inside edges of the disk openers. If you don't replace that scraper when you replace the disk openers, you may have trouble with moist dirt plugging the unit if we get a damp spring.

-If you use a wand type seed firmer--a long plastic tail that trails behind the disk openers to press seeds to the bottom of the seed furrow--check each wand for wear and flexibility. The bottoms of the wands will wear in a V-shape. The bottom should be relatively square. Over time the plastic of the wands can lose their flexibility, and don't press as firmly against the bottom of the seed furrow as they should. The best way to check a seed firming wand is to buy or borrow a new wand and hold it alongside your old wands. Differences in thickness and flexibility will be obvious. FYI---the manufacturer of a popular seed firming wand says on their website that it's normal to replace wands after three planting seasons.

-Remove seed tubes from the row unit and check them for damage. Check the top of the tube for bent or crack plastic that will keep the discharge chute of the seed meter from fitting into the seed tube properly. Check the middle of the tube for cracks---I don't know how or why tubes get cracked in the middle around the seed tube sensor's "eye," but they do. And check the bottom to make sure the end isn't worn on one side or cracked from contact with a rock. The seed meter can release seeds at perfect intervals to provide perfect seed spacing in the furrow, but if the seed tube has flaws that make the seeds ricochet it messes up the timing as they fall through the tube.

And here's something I hadn't thought about, until I was at a training class for planter maintenance: Everybody wants the proverbial picket fence final stand of corn. If the germination on your corn is 98 percent, and you're planter has been checked to ensure it will plant at least 98 percent accurate--then you'll never be able to plant better than 96 percent accuracy. It's tough to plant perfectly in an imperfect world.

Spend Money And Save Your Back

Feb 03, 2013

 IF you work from a shop with a smooth concrete floor, and IF you have to swap, change, or remove a lot of full-size combine, tractor, sprayer or semi truck tires, a wheel dolly is a wonderful investment.

Wheel dollies come in many sizes and designs, but the principle is the same: Imagine a low-slung L-shaped frame on four small dolly wheels. Jack up the tractor, combine or truck from which you need to remove the tire, until the tire is off the floor. Wheel the tire dolly under the tire. A built in hydraulic jack raises the lower portion of the L until the tire is cradled between the tire dolly's two lower arms. Unbolt the wheel from the machine, and use the dolly wheels to back the tire away and roll it wherever it needs to go.

Tire dollies come in many sizes, with many options. Deluxe units have not only hydraulic lift, but are adjustable so the tire can be tilted toward or away from vertical to perfectly align with the wheel hub on the machine. Another feature is to have rollers on the lower lift arms, which allows the tire to be turned while it's on the tire dolly to align the holes in the wheel with the holes in the wheel hub on the machine. (That feature works nice on semi truck tires and big planter or other smooth-treaded tires. Not so well on cleated tractor and combine tires.)

If you're a tightwad, a tire dolly is a luxury. Yes, it is possible to manhandle tractor tires, self-propelled sprayer tires and other 6-foot-tall tires, rolling them across the floor while carefully, CAREFULLY! trying to maintain their balance. Yes, it is possible to use a tractor loader equipped with bale tines and a log chain to lift and move tires and wheels. 

But if you want to be safe, and if you want to reduce the chance of a broken foot, strained back or a bale tine getting stabbed through the side window of a tractor cab (it happens...), a wheel dolly is a wonderful option. As combine and tractor tires get taller and incredibly heavier, and the trend toward swapping self-propelled sprayer tires between floater tires/duals to row-crow tires several times a year becomes more common--a wheel dolly starts to make sense.

Figure on spending between $800 and $2500 for a wheel dolly, depending on how big of a one you get, and how many bells and whistles it has. BTW--emergency room visits for a smashed foot, broken leg or other tire-related injury usually start at around $2000.

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