Cultivating Communities North Valley hired us to develop a handout/curriculum for a workshop on tool maintenance and repair. Here is the first draft.all_handtools

We are putting on a tool repair and maintenace workshop next Friday for Cultivating Communities North Valley. CCNV’s mission is to:
…increase food security by serving the … needs of low-income residents, local growers, and service agencies.

Getting invited to ‘perform’ for an event like this makes me mull what it is that we have that is worth sharing, so here are some thoughts on tools and repair in a story about one small project.

Repair is about knowing: how the broken object functions, why it broke, what the broken part is made of, and which tools and materials to use to make a replacement part. You could take it one step further and say that if you take good care of your tools, you won’t have to fix them.

I don’t think of repair as a skill set – I think of it as a living expression of culture. It is in our collective DNA. Our ancestors were handy people who knew how to repair things because that was what you did if something broke. Repair is not dead in our culture – Google ‘Repair Iphone screen’ and you will get 106,000,000 results.

Our accumulated knowledge. Hand-written sheet metal pattern book from mid-20th century.

The knowledge to fix ANYTHING mechanical exists here in our community.

We can even fix things when we have no idea what they do.

And the raw materials are here too.

My dad grew up on a wheat farm about 20 miles from the nearest hardware store. Like most farmers they were poor – my Grandpa was born in a sod-roofed dirt shack dug into the prairie. Nothing was ever thrown away, but in1956, they went broke, auctioned off all of their equipment (most of it still owned by the Bank), and moved to a Hayward, California suburb. My Grandpa became a builder, as his father had been, and spent the next 20 years putting up big buildings in the Bay Area. My dad became a builder too. Grandpa started a new bonepile, bringing home leftover screws and bolts, nails, boxes of tile, and hinges from the various jobs they did. A lot of it went into a house he built, but eventually we inherited all of that booty, and bits and pieces are still finding their way into our projects.

The bonepile. I used some of this stuff today to fix a trowel.

Time is the only thing that we really have, and I think we need to renegotiate our relationship with it. I’d rather spend an hour in the shop than an hour going to Home Depot. The idea that it is cheaper to buy a new shovel when the handle breaks only pencils out your only choice is to either buy a $10 handle or new piece-of-shit $12 shovel. If your original shovel is of high-quality (Made in the USA, England, Germany, or somewhere other than China), by all means you should fix it – you may never find a better one from here on out, and the satisfaction that you get from doing the job will come back to you every time that you use the tool.

First question – Is this tool worth fixing? If you have a cheap Chinese garden fork with tines that keep bending, the answer is probably no – you will just end up with a shitty tool with a nice handle. I got this broken garden fork in an auction for $2. It was intact, but the handle was badly cracked. It was forged in the USA – this is a quality tool, made from good carbon steel. If the person who had this before me was able to crank on it hard enough to break the handle without bending the tines, that is also a good sign that they are solid.

Another thought about my Grandad’s generation – in the early 1940s, steel scrap prices were high, and trains came through Montana loading up all of the old tractors, plows, and scrap. It was all sold to Japan, which used the steel to militarize their country in preparation for WWII. During the war my Grandma and Grandpa were both employed at the Alameda Naval Air Station repairing shot-up airplanes from the Pacific Theatre. My Grandpa said that he couldn’t help but wonder if the guns that did the damage were made from his old tractors.

Recycling is a losing proposition. Scrap prices are high now too, and the high-quality tool that you haul to the dump or scrap yard will go to China (for sure) and come back as a disposable shovel, or something else of lesser value than what it is now. Also, instead of turning our good steel into guns, the Chinese are turning our good steel into USA debt, which we seem to be happy to exchange for garbage. Good tools are a resource to our community, and Nation. Don’t throw them away.

Baseball bats are a great source of handle stock. They are premium-grade hardwood, selected for their tight grain and lack of knots. This trowel needed a new handle, so I shaved the butt-end of a bat down to fit within the ferrule (metal band) salvaged from a broken rake (thanks Bonepile). This bat was $1 at a yard sale.

I flattened the side of the bat with a sharp hatchet, and scribed the shape of the old handle socket onto the bat. Used the hatchet for all of the rough shaping of the new handle.

Carpenter’s hatchet with a flat face – kept razor sharp, kind of like a big chisel on a stick. Here the handle has it’s rough shape, and is ready for smoothing with a block plane.

Used an electric drill and chisel to prepare a hole in the handle end for the bar on the fork – the drill was the only electric tool used on the project.

I used a center punch to tap a small pilot hole to guide a drill bit into the center of the rivet, and then drilled the head off of the rivet.

Using a drift punch to remove the rivets from the old T-handle.

New handle shaped, fitted to the original socket, and hammered onto the fork.

A simple job using these simple tools.
Block plane
Hammers and punches
Crescent wrench

It still needs a piece of wood for the cross-piece on the T-handle, better find another bat.

I just finished a bag for our friend Ron, who is a bike mechanic, pacifist, former Marine, and man of action. Ron is passionate about bikes as a solution to oil-driven war and violence, and has made building low-cost bikes his life’s work. He has also ridden his bike across the country several times on rallies to protest war and militarism.

Ron Bikes 4 Peace

Ron left Chico yesterday to ride on part of a cross-country tour that is being led by Cindy Sheehan, who became a major voice in the antiwar movement after losing her son in the Iraq war. The ride is called Tour de Peace, and it is a fundraiser for charities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ron is riding as far as Flagstaff, and the rest of the riders will follow Route 66 to Chicago, and finish their ride in Washington D.C. The riders demand: To end wars, to end immunity for U.S. war crimes, to end suppression of our civil rights, to end the use of fossil fuels, to end persecution of whistleblowers, to end partisan apathy and inaction.

The riders in action:

I decided to make Ron a bag for his ride, and hoped that the bag would make it across the country with the tour. Ron just built a bike for Cindy using spare parts and with donations from a lot of our local bike shops. He said that he’ll give Cindy the bag once they get to Arizona.

Made in the USA

This was an introspective project – what do you make for a woman who is riding to mourn her son and raise money for the innocent people in the countries that we have destroyed? I thought about making the bag all out of military surplus fabric as a metaphor for healing the cycle of wasted potential, squandered resources, and ruined lives, but I ended up thinking that I wanted to make a piece that was beautiful, calm, rich, and fit for a grandmother – a dignified woman out on an important errand.

This bag ended up being a little larger than our stock handlebar bags, and it barely fits inside of Ron’s mustache bars. It is supported by our locally-forged steel frame.

I used repurposed tweed, upholstery scrap, and a bit of a waxed-cotton tarp that was the roof of our friend Lauren’s family’s Sierra Nevada summer tent cabin.

Most of our handlebar bags haven’t had lids on them, as I like being able to graze out of mine as I ride, and they are deep enough that things don’t usually fall out, but Ron wanted a cover for foul weather, so we came up with this first draft – it is made from repurposed drysuit material that we got from a friend who does fisheries research. The back is attached with snaps, so you can remove it when the sun is shining. Trim and clip on the front are military surplus.

We ended up with a bit of military surplus in there after all – the trim on the sides, buckles, and brass D-rings are all surplus. Actually the only new or virgin materials in this project are the rivets, thread, and steel rod in the frame that holds up the bag.

Salvage is the new patriotism. We salute the peace riders.

New sign from old junk

Posted: February 14, 2013 in metalwork, the shop


We have been needing a sign for our shop for a while now, and while I have been collecting materials, it has been sort of back-burner. Finally got a chance to put something together.


We have a lot of ‘junk’, but I am proud to have broken down and hauled a lot of things to the scrap yard in the last few months. I bought a random lot of hillbilly treasure in an auction last fall – mainly to get this saw blade and an old forge. The rest of this saw was too kludged together to really even cut much usable scrap out of, so to the crusher it went – it is probably already on its way back from China.


The forge blower – patent 1901, Champion, USA. Next project on the list. Note authentic bullet holes in the redneck firepan.


Some picker friends hooked us up with this massive truck wheel hub – we traded an extension cord, some industrial sewing thread, and bobbins for an antique Singer long arm machine. I took the brake drum off to use as a fire pan for the forge and was left with the hub, which I almost put into the scrap barrel. Luckily, there was no space in the barrel, so I left it on the bench to think about it.


Decided I could use the old hub as a collar to attach a signpost to some pipes in front of the shop that act as a corral for dumpster – the landlord doesn’t want me welding on the pipes, so I needed a non-welding way to attach the pole. We don’t have a dumpster anyway – though some might say that we have a warehouse-sized one… I had an old driveline to use as the post, and once we pressed out the U-joints, I thought that if I drilled a 1″ hole through the hub, I could use a bolt through the U-joint holes to attach the pole in such a way as to have some natural sway in the pole, so the sign could move side to side, with a counterweight balancing it below. Paul said “you have a huge bit, a huge drill, and a huge chunk of metal, why not try it? I drilled it in 5 steps, and right when the final 1” bit broke through the last hole, it caught, tore the piece (30#) out of the vice, and whanged it around, smacking the upright stand post on the drill press a few time. I whacked the off button as I leaped back. Paul ran out to see what had happened. Dang, should have left the drive belt looser so it would act as a safety clutch. 


Here is the final product. I printed the letters out on a plotter and glued the print to the saw, used a plasma cutter that Dave Richer gave me to cut it all out.



We just got an inquiry from a person who is interested in making the leap from portable to industrial sewing machines. Industrial machines are awesome – even if you are just sewing dresses or light fabrics. Their stitch quality is very consistent, they last forever, and they are made to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (think ‘factory’). Buy one, your grandchildren will thank you!

Here are some more thoughts:

See Jennifer’s original email, below our reply.

Thanks for your inquiry.
I’d recommend that you get a walking-foot industrial machine.
While there are some decent heavy-duty portable machines like the Sailrite (very similar to the Consew CP206), there really are no good ‘halfway-between-portable-and-industrial’ machines. Big machines take some getting used to, and are a real hassle to move, but they are so worth it. You’ll never want to sew on a portable again.

Most factories/assembly lines have many different specialized machines. (e.g. walking foot machines for top-stitching, bartack machines for buttons and structural work, a post-bed machine for sewing in bag sides or awkward corners, and lockstitch machines for long, fast runs). You won’t find one single machine that does everything, but If you are just going to have one machine, I recommend a walking-foot.

Walking foot machines are best for leather and rubbery materials like inner-tube as they feed material simultaneously with both the foot and the feed-dog. Without the moving foot, frictiony material tends to bind against the foot as it is pulled along by the feed dog. We use our main walking foot machine as the goto machine. They can sew through anything. License plates, books, or fire hose. They are also good for super-light fabrics like ripstop nylon, as they pull the material thru the machine evenly. 

That said, if you mainly are working with light suede, demin, and vinyl, a normal lockstitch non-walking-foot machine will do a lot at a lower price.

For industrial machines, look for any Consew, Singer, Brother or Juki walking foot machine. Try to buy a used machine. Older is better – these brands are all solid, and pretty much like a Toyota pickup – they last forever, and parts are inexpensive and easy to find. Avoid Yamata, or other new Chinese machines.

Pfaffs and Berninas are great, but parts can be expensive. Any working walking foot under $400 is usually a good deal, but make sure it has reverse.

Any of these brands are usually good for a straight-stitch model too. We have a Brother DB2-791, and a Brother DB2-755, both are great – the 755s are very popular for sewing factories.  Any good straight-stitch in the brands above under $300 is a good price.

Dream list – look for a Bernina 217, Consew 206RB, or Pfaff 545. The Bernina isnot great for leather/rubber, but has dreamy zigzag action, and is super smooth. I had one and should have never sold it. Anything under $600 is a good deal for any of these. Also, the Consew 206RB is sold as a Seiko STH8-BLD-3.

Buy locally, don’t get one from Ebay. Shipping is expensive, it may arrive damaged, and you may have to pay someone to set it up. If you are buying one from Craigslist, try to get one that is in working order, and try it out before you pay. Bring samples of the fabrics that you want to use. If it is not working, or you can’t plug it in, check to see if it turns smoothly (you’ll need to press down the feed pedal with the motor switched OFF to release the clutch and spin the machine freely). Avoid machines that have an oil bath (pan full of oil under them) if they have been sitting for a long time and the oil is rancid or crusty.

Find someone local who can teach you how to service your machine – including adjusting the hook timing. If you push the limits of the machine (sewing hose, trampolines, and other found objects) you’ll jam it now and then, and unless you can do a little mechanical work, you’ll spend a lot of money at the shop. Before you go to a sewing store, look up upholstery, motorcycle, and boating shops in your area. All of these businesses have sewing associated with them, and you’ll connect with people who know the local industrial sewing scene.

Oil your machine ALL THE TIME (every day if you are using it a lot). Buy Lily White brand sewing machine oil by the quart or gallon, get an oil can, and oil every place where there is metal on metal contact (lots of machines have a daub of red paint on all of the oil holes). If you are buying an old machine, oil it well and work it loose before you start sewing on it. If the machine is filth when yo uget it, take it in for a cleaning ($100+), or put it over a baking pan and attack it with a big bottle of WD-40, some Qtips, and a clean cotton rag. Wear rubber gloves. Some people say not to use WD40 on your sewing machine, and it is a good idea not to use it for normal lubrication, but it works well for cleaning it up, and being able to blast gunk off with the little red hose is a bonus. 

We use #22 needles for our heaviest work, and #69 nylon thread (buy the 1 pound spools to save money). We sometimes use #16 needles with the #69 thread, or #46 thread for lighter projects. If you get a machine with a small bobbin, you can run #46 thread in the bobbin so it lasts longer. If you are topsticthing anything structural, you may want to use polyester thread, as it is less prone to UV degradation and rot. Buy Orange-brand needles off of Ebay. We often put a drop of oil on the needle before starting a thick run of stitching if we are using rubbery materials, otherwise the needle gets so hot that it melts the thread.

Happy hunting, and don’t blame us when your shop is too full of machines to walk through! Industrial machines are addictive…

On 1/18/13 7:25 AM, Jennifer Karches wrote:
Hello Zeke and Erika!

Wow, right now I wished I lived in Chico! I just spent most of last evening going through your blog and I am really enthralled….I feel like I have soul mates (who are light years ahead of me!) with you guys.;-)

The cattail bag was just amazing….truly a work of art. And I love the bike bags for the front of the bike! I never would have thought to use firehose for material!! It makes me want to stop by the firehouses in town and see what they throw out!!
I am currently making scarves, mitts, snoods, phone cosies, etc. out of thrift store cashmere and felted wool, but I am now branching into bicycle inner tube wallets and cell phone cases (and I just found a source for billboard canvas) and my 90’s era Singer is not cooperating with my ideas! We live in a college town so I am endlessly coming upon interesting things in dumpsters, the trash and during our big junk week, when there is “unlimited pickup”, which is basically a big trash fest for a handful of crazy people trolling around looking for useful things. 😉 I generally just load up my car many multiple times, and donate most items to Goodwill…because it makes me sick thinking all that stuff would go to the landfill! It is just gross how students (mostly) throw out entire contents of their apartment!

Anyways, so I have been researching getting a new (to me) industrial machine, and I am soooo confused about what to buy! I have been advised to buy, by different people, a Pfaff IDT machine, a Sailrite, an old Kenmore, an old Singer, a Consew…..

I did find this brand new Consew on ebay:
…but I’ve read a couple of not so stellar reviews.

So I feel kind of paralyzed as to what to do!
So, can you give me advice on a good machine that will sew multiple layers of leather, bicycle tubes, wool jackets, canvas, denim, etc. that a basic sewing novice (I’ve taught myself) can operate without much problem in a spare bedroom? Or do you have a machine to sell to me? Do I need to get one of those monster industrial machines or would a portable work? What needles/thread should I use?

I am basically just trying to take my occasional pastime up several notches, and hopefully consign some of the stuff at our local bike shop to support my habit! So I think I will be looking at older machines, which is fine with me. I am just a bit intimidated with the big industrial motored machines…

So, I hope you can help me! Thank you for any advice you can give me!!!



Posted: January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized
o·ver·haul  (vr-hôlvr-hôl)

tr.v. o·ver·hauledo·ver·haul·ingo·ver·hauls


a. To examine or go over carefully for needed repairs.
b. To dismantle in order to make repairs.

2. To make extensive renovations or revisions on; renovate.
3. To catch up with; overtake.
n. (vr-hôl)

1. An act of overhauling.
2. A repair job.










If you are looking for vintage wool, the fewer people who have heard of a ‘Tweed Ride’ the better. Whether we are in Kansas City, Saint Paul, Cheyenne, or Oakland, our salvage forays seem to usually land us in the ghetto. 

We just spent a week on the road in the great Nation of California, visiting friends and family, searching for materials and tools, and just looking around. Who needs to travel to Peru to have an exotic time? Wowee, Pop, this State is crazy! I don’t know if it is just getting older, or the fact that your three-year-old can announce that he has to POOP RIGHT NOW! when you are driving thru West Oakland; all I can say is that when I am on the road, my mind is blown continuously.  

6 thoughts from the road:

1. California is a FUCKING AWESOME, dynamic place to live. We drove from Chico to Santa Cruz through a wild storm that dropped 4 feet of snow on Westwood and 6″ of rain on the Santa Cruz Mountains in one afternoon. Down I-5 in gale winds and peppering rain, through blur-out downpours in traffic on the 880, and over Highway 17 on flooded lanes, with mud pouring off of gushing driveways. Even the daily commuters were driving slow, and we arrived alive. The San Lorenzo River was at the tops of the levees in Santa Cruz. As the storm broke, we walked to the beach bluffs, and Ezra, on his Scootbike, laughed at the gusty winds and said ‘Wild nature, Daddy’! Monday dawned clear, and we had a bluebird drive down the 101 thru rolling green hills.  

2. You can’t have a global financial system without the movement of people, and migration is not just about ethnicity, language, or religion. New Americans are bringing us lessons on both poverty AND wealth. Their understanding of thrift, reuse, repair, and niche markets is making us a better people. America isn’t becoming a ‘third world’ country, the Earth is becoming a ‘third-world planet’ with some good neighborhoods. If you don’t like it, you can always move to Northern Idaho. You’ll have poor neighbors there too, but shittier food – we’ll ship you some organic mandarins, fresh salsa, and avocados if you promise to leave tomorrow.

3. There is no such thing as ‘first-world’ and ‘third-world’ – just walls and school districts. New Chinese millionaires are buying homes in Palo Alto like crazy. A friend there told us that all of their neighbors are new Chinese millionaires, and that their tiny two bedroom cottage is worth $1.8 million. As it gets more expensive/difficult to own a car or drive, your carpenter, pool boy, lawn guy, nurse or maid might actually have to live in the same zip code as you. Drive Middlefield Road from Redwood City to Palo Alto and try not to let your neck snap when you cross into Atherton

4. Thrift stores are the new Macys. For every major retailer that goes bust, I am guessing that two thrift stores take its place. Can I buy stock in Goodwill? They are building new, huge stores like crazy all over the country! Also, Dollar Stores are a dime a dozen. Every retail business along every main drag in every town is selling cheap Chinese shit (unless they are selling cheaper Bangladeshi shit). This includes REI, Patagonia, Home Depot, and even the fanciest boutiques. The only place to find non-cheap-Chinese shit is a thrift or antique store. 

5. There is not a ‘Tweed Ride’ in Santa Maria, California. There are, however, many grownups riding bicycles, and many vintage wool jackets in the thrift stores. Also, there are cheap toys for sale that have been repaired well, with rivets and aluminum scraps. This is the future! 

6. It’s all about the water. I-505 will become the next Fairfield-Vallejo within 30 years, and they’ll get their water from the Tehama-Colusa Canal/Tuscan Aquifer.    


We like salvage, but this is just garbage! Right around the corner from E’s mom’s house in Lompoc – aka ‘Lompton’. If I start ‘collecting’ tires, please take away my children.


In the parking lot of the Capitol Flea Market in San Jose.  


When you don’t have a warehouse and live in a shitty neighborhood, supporting the arts has its benefits.


These reminded me of Pakistani ‘Jingle Trucks’. In between them, sketchy dudes were swapping duffel bags. 


Not for hire. 


The black market is alive and well. We got to the market as the rain was ending and things were just getting set up. People were swarming the vendors as they unpacked the ‘hottest’ items – things like I phones that they don’t want sitting on the table for very long. Non-cyclist-types selling nice bike wheels without the bikes. Asked a few guys for prices on things like power tools and got prices so low that you could tell that they had no idea what things were worth, and were just hocking whatever they had come into. No thanks, we’ll buy from legit people.


In West Oakland 



West Oakland BART- our friend Janay has a shop here where she sells her amazing clothing. When I was younger I would ride the BART to SF and was always glad that I was on the train, and not down there on the street below.



A bike repair event in front of Janay’s store, West Oakland – my dad used to drive a taxicab here.



Something cubist about this.  


Probably would have been condos without the housing bust, but then where would the children paint?



It is blurry because I was nervous.  


It is blurry because I was nervous. 


It is blurry because I was nervous. 


It is blurry because I was nervous. 


It is blurry because I was nervous. 


It is blurry because I was nervous. 


Well, that’s enough of that, and he didn’t really need to poop, just peed on a tree next to a liquor store.



Blasting North, two brats not napping.



Approaching Hamilton City at the speed of light, two brats not napping, earplugs making it all a little surreal.


1,000 miles later, crossing the river with a van of plundered textile and not-stolen tools. 


The booty 



We’ll number them here, and if you want a custom bag, tell us which print suits you.

This is #1



This is #2 – it is actually quite a bit darker that this photo.



This is #3 



This is #4 


This is #5 


This is #6 (the brown one)


This is #7 


This is #8 


This is #9 


This is #10 



This is #11 


This is #12


This is #13


This is authentic.


Three new handlebar bags repurposing several great jackets and some pre-consumer Pendleton wool.








A new handlebar bag from repurposed jackets.






We are finishing handlebar bags, and wrapping up other projects before the show this weekend. Working the kinks out of some of the finer details on the handlebar bags, I often forget that it takes many, many attempts to move from prototype to production.

Realized the other night that it is more of a basket than a bag.


This one uses fire hose for trim. All of these bags are made with a cordura (nylon packcloth) body, and even the pockets are backed with cordura or canvas, so you are not counting on the vintage fabrics to do anything structural.

Pablo is learning to sew.

One of the wilder collage models.

I like the mix of brown fabrics and leathers in this bag.

We have the strapping design pretty dialed now, where it helps to cinch the rack to the handlebars.

The tags are made in the USA, too.

Here is the same bag on a different handlebar style. The rack is limber enough to bend a bit to fit on various stems.

Erika is wrapping up some field bags. I was in Portland last week and found the Pendleton Woolens Mill Discount Store, and bought various wool scraps.

This is my favorite one so far. The red flannel scrap is from a jacket that I bought at a thrift store in Bellingham, WA on my way to Alaska in 2000.