Transmission Failure

It was bound to happen eventually, but the law of averages finally caught up with me. At the last event, something went very very wrong with the transmission. Not enough to disable the car, but it came in from a run and was stuck in 2nd gear. We were able to reef on the shifter until it popped out and into the neutral position, and got it loosend up to where 3rd and 4th were usable (but really really hard to find at speed). 5th and Reverse were completely locked out.

Upon inspection at home, I expected that there was an exploded shifter bushing inside the turret that was fouling things up, but the one in there is delrin, and shouldn’t degrade and get brittle like the stockers. There was no evidence of debris in the turret, so the transmission had to come out to get the good spare in.

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While I was under there, I realized that there were a couple of brackets protruding into the tunnel that interfere with the transmission going out / in from the bottom, so I did some Prepared things to them and…let’s just say they’re not a problem anymore.

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Pro-tip: there’s a bunch of different bolt lengths and sizes holding the transmission to the block and starter. Organization is important.

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While pulling the transmission, I found a coolant weep from the cap on the back of the head that always fails. I guess it was pretty close to failure when it got bumped by a wrench or socket disconnecting the transmission from the block, so I replaced that while I had everything apart. It’s much easier with the transmission out of the way.

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Now’s where stuff got decidedly un-fun: I’d forgotten, because it’s been an age since anything like this has gone wrong with the car (just before 2013 Solo Nationals, IIRC) that the mating between the Competition Clutch and the transmission input shaft has always been a massive pain. Honestly , it’s nearly a press fit. It’s obviously not, because it works, but ever single time I’ve had to work on it, it was a matter of getting the transmission close enough to start a couple of bolts 180 degrees off from each other in the bell housing and then slowly tighten them to pull the transmission into the clutch. Obviously, that’s not what you WANT to do, but I’m going to keep telling myself it was careful so it’s fine.

I have other friends running the same twin-disk clutch without these issues, so I’m pretty sure mine’s just on the tighter side of the tolerance.

The point of all this is that after one and a half hours under the car, we weren’t able to make any progress in getting the transmission in. We just could never get quite the right angles in 3 dimensions while working on our backs. After being thoroughly exhausted by that, we decided to pull the motor.

….to install a transmission. I know. But it was going to be easier to work on everything out of the car vs under. In about 45 minutes we had the transmission out. We then spent the next hour once again fighting to get it on until it seated JUST far enough to get the aforementioned pair of bolts started and pulled the trans in.

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We stopped for the night after getting them mated and picked back up Saturday morning. From there, it was 2 hours from turning the first wrench to do up the rest of the bellhousing and starter bolts, until firing the engine.  Another 30 minutes and the exhaust, intake, prop shaft, trans fluid, shifter, coolant bled, etc.  were done and I ran the car through a warm-up cycle to make sure everything was working as designed. With the exception of that damn clutch, I LOVE LOVE LOVE how easy this car is to work on.

Less than 3 hours from engine and trans being out of the car to wheels on the ground and race-ready. That *may* be a personal best.

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That afternoon, I took a couple hours to dig into the transmission and a) see how they go together (and realize I’m not cut out for working on them), and b) see what actually broke.
What I found was the counter-shaft (the one offset from the input and output shafts) was *TWISTED* so that the wheels that should move fore and aft on those splines couldn’t, jamming it in gear, and locking us out of the 5th / reverse gate all together.

Click to zoom in, it’s impressive just how bent that shaft is.

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I’m only making 130 whp, but I guess 10 years of clutch-dump launches finally caught up to us. Given that consistent abuse, I’m pretty impressed it held up as long as it did. Because it wasn’t a gear wheel, or a shift fork or syncro, something relatively straight-forward to replace, the transmission has been relegated to the scrap bin. Before I tossed it out, however, it was recommended to me that an actual input shaft makes a FAR more accurate clutch alignment tool than the plastic ones every clutch kit ever comes with, so I cut the last foot or so of the input shaft off to keep as a useful tool, so I guess the transmission failure wasn’t a *complete* loss.

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Shop Project – Small Lathe Rebuild Part 2

With the rest of the supplies to clean it in hand, it’s time to get back to it.

I really want to show the Before and After in the same shot. 0000 Steel Wool and WD40 (and some elbow grease) did the business on that crud.

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The spindle face got a similar treatment, though it took much less effort. Load up a piece of steel wool with WD40, then turn the motor on and it basically cleans itself.

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With the big cleanup done, it’s on to the ol’ “install is reverse of removal.” First the carriage goes on…

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Followed by the apron and lead screw.

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Then the cross-slide, compound and spindle go back on. She cleaned up fairly well if I say so myself!

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The shear pin for the lead screw was pretty well boogered on removal. Thankfully, I had this handy-dandy lathe with which to make myself a new one:

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After getting it back together, the cross-slide feed was still really sticky. I thought maybe the feed screw was bent (because it’s super skinny). I took it all apart and everything measured fairly straight, so I dove a little deeper and found that the graduated ring was binding up against the screw’s housing at the same spot on every rotation. If I took the ring off, the handle turned perfectly smooth.

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I could make it loose enough to work but then it wouldn’t hold its position, or I could make it tight enough to hold its position and it would be impossible to turn through that rough spot. You can sort of see where it’s interfering here, on that dark ring. I broke out the emery cloth and a fresh can of elbow grease and spent a few minutes knocking it back just enough that it turns nice and freely now.

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Next, the tail-stock’s alignment was an unknown quantity, so I wanted to take the time to center it up correctly with the bore of the chuck. Usually you’d use a couple of tapered centers for that, but, well, I don’t have any of those yet. I turned a center from a piece of scrap steel rod, and then used a centering bit in the tail-stock (which also comes to a point) and used those 2 points to get it trammed in. It’s probably not *perfect*, but it’s well within good-enough range.

Before:

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After:

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Next week, the quick change tool post arrives. I’ll need to make a spacer for that, get the tools aligned, and get some feet made for this thing. After that I’ll…probably… have motivation to clean it’s spot in the shop, and then, at long last, put this thing to work.

Shop Project – Small Lathe Rebuild Part 1

I know, I know. It’s not a Miata build, but it is Miata adjacent. I’ve already got some parts I’m looking to turned on it for my car. And it’s an interesting process, so I figured some of y’all might be interested.

I’ve been shopping for a small lathe for the shop for some time now, but kinda had a deal fall in my lap for a used, neglected, Emco 8×20 lathe. A buddy had bought it at a “used tool” auction at his work many years ago, then had a kid (and inherited his grandfather’s lathe that also needs work), so this one was just collecting dust.

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Only a moderate sketch factor with the rigging, but I stopped a couple times in the first few miles to cinch the straps down as it settled in place (and secure the rear door that had swung open), and it was fine the rest of the way back home.

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And just for fun, I turned Baby’s First Chip just to say I had before the teardown started. Because boy did it need to be gone through.

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With a little help from a couple friends, we got it down to my workshop. If you’ve ever seen where my shop is, you know how sketchy THAT was. I backed the trailer down the hill, then used the winch to slowly slide it off the trailer and into the workshop, with someone on each side to steer.

One of the first things I noticed (and was pretty worried by) was the runout on the chuck. Hopefully the entire headstock won’t need to be rebuilt, because I found the most likely culprit: a bunch of swarf built up between the back of the chuck and the lathe’s face plate. Hopefully tidying this up will improve that situation, or else I’m going to have to figure out what’s crooked in the system. The nice thing is that the lathe can be used to true itself up if need be.

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Next up was the sticky lever in the quick-change gear box for the power feed for the compound. Apparently they’ve been using grease in this thing instead of machine oil. This…will become a running theme. I let it soak in simple green then oiled it while the machine ran for a few minutes and that freed the lever up to move freely side to side. The lead screw will need to be taken off and THOROUGHLY cleaned, however, as it is caked in fine chips. This too will become a running theme.

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My next biggest problem is both the free play and stiction in the cross slide. The free play can be tuned out by adjusting the gibs and the tension on the nut that the adjustment screw rides in, but a lot of the stiction is from old, crusty grease. So, the entire compound / cross slide / top slide and apron are going to come apart to be thoroughly cleaned up. I’m not going for “car show” levels of cleanliness, but I want it to run well even if it’s not the most beautiful belle at the ball. Once again, a ton of crud under the tool post. I actually couldn’t find the witness mark for setting the tool post angle because it was caked in dirt and oil. It should turn much more freely now.

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Got the cross slide wheel & screw out. Again, CAKED on grease everywhere I turn (unintentional lathe joke!). To be clear, this isn’t grease as you think of it, just heavily applied. This is stuff that’s been on there for 20 years, dried up and left a thick coating of dry crap that has to be scraped off by a fine pick in many instances.

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And finally, the compound comes off the ways. This is the bottom of the compound, where it would slide on the lathe bed. As you can see, some surface rust (not anywhere it actually touches the lathe ways, thankfully), and a lot of old oil & dust and grit that will need to be cleaned off.

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With the compound, apron and lead screw off, she’s now pretty stark naked.

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Up next was to work on the apron (ie: the gearset that uses the lead screw to run the power feed for the compound, and rides under the compound). This is what greeted me when I took it off. Take a moment to click the picture and zoom in on just how bad it is. The amount of crud caked in the threading half-nuts, the caked on grease (more…). After I’d run it for a while, the handle for the power feed was jammed on and couldn’t be disengaged because of what ended up being a chunk of dried grease getting caught in its working. It was bad.

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A bath in the parts washer made almost no difference in the grease on the gear train there. I ended up to have to disassemble the power feed engagement lever and gear assembly and then go through the entire gear train and the lead screw, tooth by tooth, thread by thread, with a pick to actually get the hardened gunk out of the system.

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The compound angle was really tough to set earlier. This is what I found between the angle dial that’s pressed onto that arbor, and the tool post.

20171205_133947  It was a ton of work, but MAN everything turns smoothly now. It’s such a huge difference. I put the barest whiff of white lithium grease on it per the factory service recommendations, and then it’s maintained afterwards with 140W gear oil. 20171206_115325

She still needs work, but we’re getting close. I’ve got the final cleaning supplies (specifically, some 0000 steel wool to clean the ways and gibs) coming in the next day or 2, and a handful of replacement parts and upgrades that should be coming next week.

Setup Stand Build Plans

First off:

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Now that the legal jargon is out of the way:

The response I got from the setup stand build has been tremendous. Several folks have suggested that they’d like plans be made available so they can build their own set, and that they’d be happy to throw a few bucks my way for the time that went into developing them. I’m staggered, because I thought I’d make a couple sets for buddies and that would be it, and that would be that.

 

The directions include a materials list, a cut list, some 3D modeling and photographs of the stands.

Chances are that, having built a few sets now, I may have left out a few things that seem intuitive to me just from having done it several times. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

 

If you’d like the plans, e-mail me at amaff5@gmail.com and I’ll send a .PDF with the plans.

 

This is very much a hobby for me, not a business, and these are super useful tools for “us people”. I’d rather more of my racing buddies have access to them than not, so I’m making the plans available for free. Hell, if we had money to burn we’d just spend $2,000 on the commercially available options and be done with it.

That said, I have put a great deal of time and sweat (omg so much sweat you guys) developing these. If you feel that these were worth it and / or want to throw a few bucks in the hat / Tire Fund for the R&D done on these, you can do so here:

Donate with PayPal

Links to the original build ‘thread’:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Setup Stands Part 3 – Setup Setup Setup

Now that the fabrication work is done on the setup pads, it’s time to set up the setup pads so that the setup pads can be use to set up the car.

Setup.

First thing’s first: Paint. It’s always paint.

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Step 2 is…more paint, oddly enough. I picked a fairly central location in the shop for the setup pads, then got them on the car so that they could be squared up, so that their locations can be marked. This is so that each pad goes in the same spot, in the same orientation each time, that way once they’re leveled, they remain consistent.

I made up a stencil to use for marking the floor, put the foot of each corner on the circle in the middle, then marked out the perimeter with tape.

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That done, the stands came out from under the car, the car was moved out of the shop, and each spot was marked:

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Next it was time to level the full set. I started off by setting the feet to their highest setting so that I could find the lowest corner, and then adjust the rest of the pads to meet that corner.

CUE THE LASERS!!!

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I used a couple of my big fabrication squares, made white backgrounds (to better see the laser) and then made a mark on each at the same level. Get the lines on the squares to meet the laser at both the front and rear of each pad, and you’ve got it level.

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With the setup of the setup pads done, it was time to…. do some setup on the scales. Specifically, I was sick of dealing with the rats nest each time I unspooled the cables, so I made left- and right-side “harnesses” to keep things tidy. They’ll run under the car down the middle so that they’re out of the way of jacks and what not.

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And with that, somehow, miraculously, despite taking what felt like most of my life, they’re complete and in service! They look great and will work great. Having now used them exactly once, they were already worth the effort. Being able to get and keep a consistent setup on the car (and help friends with their cars) can only be a good thing.

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Now to make 2 more sets…

 

Part 1
Part 2

Setup Stands Part 2 – Roll Out!

Roll off pads are very useful for setup, allowing a place to make alignment changes, to zero the scales, and to allow the tire to roll to undo any bind that setting changes may have introduced. They are also the thing that adds a TON of cost to the commercial setup stand options.

Since I’m fully committed at this point, might as well go big.

The pad itself will be a pieces of 1/8″ aluminum sheet, supported on both sides and in the middle.

The side supports are made of 3/16″ steel bar with 3 holes per side drilled and a nut welded to the back side on each to secure the plate. The bars are supported on 3 sides, sitting on the frame on the short sides and 1 long side. Those bars on top of the frame puts the floor just a shade lower than the scale pads, allowing space for some thin grease plates to do alignments.

The center support is a length of 1″ bar with 3 holes through it. 1/4″ on one side for the bolts, and just about 1″ on the bottom to allow a 10mm socket with an M6 nut to be inserted from the bottom.

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Once the 2 sides were done, the next challenge was fitting up the middle support tube such that it was dead level with the 2 sides so the floor is perfectly flat. To do that, I flipped the entire frame so that the side-supports were flat against the welding table, then placed the tube in to get tacked up so that the welding table top became the reference surface for the whole setup.

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With the frames completed, it was time to fab up the floor. After rough-cutting it, clamped it to the frame and drilled the 3 central holes as they can be accessed from underneath. The challenge, however, was to get the position of the 6 holes on the sides that were covered up by the angle iron.

This is where a DILYSI Dave hot tip came in incredibly handy. Long ago when I was building the new Seat Mounts, he suggested making some blind transfer punches out of some bolts. I made up a few more so I’d have a full set for this job. I threaded them into the holes, then bolted down the 3 central bolts so that the floor would be in the correct place, then gave each location a sharp whack with a rubber mallet to mark its location on the aluminum sheet for drilling.

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With the prototype nearly complete, I wanted to do some strength testing (ie: dropping the car on it vigorously a few times) to make sure there weren’t any glaring issues:

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And since I was painting the new Saw Stand, I figured I might as well hit this one with a coat of paint. This, it would turn out, would be a mistake.

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The keen eyed will notice 2 glaring omissions at this point (the point at which I thought I was done with this…). 1. There is no provision for the cable for the scales to pass through, and 2. There are no wheel stops. The commercial ones don’t usually have wheel stops, but they’re much shorter so were you to roll the car off of them, the likelyhood of them damaging the car is fairly low. These are very tall, and VERY strong. As such, should the car roll off of these, it would be ugly.  I’ll address these next.

First up is a notch for the cable. Attempt number 1 was…. well… fugly. I tried doing it with and angle grinder and the results were bad.

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It was at this point that the true value of a welder came into play. That was ugly enough that I decided to un-cut steel.

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After a rethink and some consultation, I decided to use a hole saw instead. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, however at this point, with the frame fully assembled, it was a bit late in the game. This is by far the dumbest thing I’ve ever chucked up in the drill press, but damn if it didn’t work!

(I’ve no idea why this photo shows up sidewards. Click the picture for the right-side-up image)

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Thankfully the results were most excellent. After a little cleanup of the sharp edges and corners with a flap disk, I was very happy.

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On to the tire stops. After a bit of figuring and evolutionary engineering, I ended up with an easy to fabricate, dead simple solution that will 1) stop the car rolling off the ends, and 2) still allow the stands to stack together to minimize the space they take in the shop.

Part the first is a 2″ length of 1/2″ OD tube welded in the center of each end of the frame:

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Next is a 6″ length of 3/8″ steel rod, with a bend around the 2″ mark and a bullet nose ground in on each end. The bend is so that they won’t just fall through the tube, and it leaves a ~4″ step that would take an immense amount of force to get the tires over. If you figure out a way to do that, you do your alignments far more aggressively than I.

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The short side / long side has an added advantage that I wish I could take credit for but in reality was a complete, but happy, accident. Up front, that long post interferes with the splitter when rolling the car back and forth between the scale and the roll off pad.

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With it flipped upside down, there’s still plenty of a step to stop the car (plus the taller sides are still up at the rear), and the splitter clears easily. I love it when a plan, accidental or otherwise, comes together!

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Now to just do all that 3 more times.

To be continued!

 

Part 1
Part 3

Setup Stands Part 1 – The Frame Job

Many moons ago, a buddy posted a few pictures to Facebook of his car on some setup / alignment pads. My curiosity piqued, I reached out and got a bit more info from him, as something similar would be phenomenally useful. I’d looked at commercial options for these, but they are prohibitively expensive, and John’s homebuilt pads looked pretty close to what I wanted for a lot less money.

After a great deal of figuring and bouncing ideas off of engineer friends, it became clear that a set could be made that would also incorporate setup scales, for relatively little cash (and a great deal of time….so, so much time). Initial designs were drawn up and steel ordered.

What follows is going to be a boatload of photos of various stages of the build. It was a very very long process of evolutionary engineering and problem solving, but now that I know how to build them, additional sets will be made relatively (and it is very relative, because they’re a ton of work) easily.

First step: getting a bunch of steel home. I had various pieces cut more or less to length, as I didn’t know exactly how they would go together but had a general feel for at least what the long legs needed to be. The rest were cut to fit in the back of the truckster to get it home.

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Lots of measuring (way more than twice), cutting, coping and beveling later, and the first frame was roughed out.

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The scales will sit on the side with “floor” on all 4 edges, and the rolloff pads will go opposite them.

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Cutting 45 degree miter joints would have been far easier from a fab standpoint. However coping the joints has 2 very big advantages: it leaves nice, flat areas on each end of the “long” side of the frame for the legs to sit on, and with that, there is a lot less strain on the welds and puts everything in compression, with the welds mostly holding the pieces together, and not supporting the weight of the car.

It’s not that I don’t trust my welds, but with something that needs to hold the weight of a car from crushing me to death, I will take every bit of added strength I can get.

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A quick test fit was very encouraging. My measuring a dozen times lead to a fit that allows the scale pads to rock in and out easily, but not enough that they can move around too much.

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Mocking up the legs:

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Got the rest of the gussets and the horizontal supports done.

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A design requirement was to have feet at each corner that will allow the full set to be leveled. The first step of that are these that make the bottom of the legs, with the threaded nut inside the leg. So, weld the nut to the washer, then weld that assembly to the leg.

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The rest of the parts stackup.

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This once again goes into the strength of the thing. Once the jam nut is tightened up, all of the load is on the big washers at the bottom of the legs and the bolt, and virtually none of the operating load is on the tack welds securing the nut on the inside of the legs.

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With the basic design roughed out, we’ll work on the roll off pads in Part 2.

To be continued….

 

Part 2
Part 3