pressure blaster

For years I have been using a small Craftsman siphon blaster to clean small parts with. I have done an incredible amount of work with this tool over the years, but it's real painstaking since it blasts only a very small section at a time. To do anything more than a pulley or a bracket really is asking for too much from it.
I knew I'd have a lot of stuff to clean with the Duster so I decided to try a small pressure blaster. It's a 10 gallon machine that I bought from Cummins Tools for under 100 bucks. These tools are advertised as being 5 times faster than a siphon blaster so I was tempted to try it. I loaded it up with a 50 pound bag of aluminum oxide, connected the air supply and went to work.

WOW ! I was amazed at how great it worked. Dramatically faster than my old siphon blaster. My euphoria was short-lived however. After doing only 2 or 3 small parts it started to blow air only. You're working with a hood on so it's hard to see what's going on around you, but when I removed the hood I found myself standing in a sea of aluminum oxide. It seems that the vessel had emptied itself already. One of the things that bugged me about this machine is that it did not include any operation instructions. It had assembly instructions and names for the 4 or so different valves, but nowhere did it say "do this, and do that", so I was winging it from the start. I figured that I had to adjust a valve for less media, but didn't know exactly how. I also knew that even so, I would have to run out to get more stuff, since I can't stop after every 5 minutes to sweep up the material, sift it, and reload it. I also noticed that the small ceramic tip was already badly worn, so I knew I'd have to get several more of those as well.

So, off I go on a 20 minute drive each way to get 2 more bags of aluminum oxide. This gave me 3 times more work time before having to re-fill, but was also another 60 dollars, plus the tips were another 4 bucks each, so I just dropped another 90 dollars totally unexpectedly. Back to work I go, and things are going well for a while. I'm thinking about how glad I am that I invested in a blasting hood as well, 'cause now I don't have to worry about getting all bundled up with a hooded sweatshirt, goggles and mask. After another tank refill, I reach for the hood to put it on but it's inside-out. In the process of reversing it, the lens breaks. Luckily I always have a good supply of safety glasses and goggles, so at least I don't have to go out again, but for the next 2 days I'm having to work with goggles and the stuff is blowing up into the the hole where the lens was, etc.

I got a good amount of parts done, but now I'm starting to have more problems. The machine is sputtering a lot. Sometimes it's blowing too much sand, sometimes too much air. I found myself disconnecting hoses often and blowing them out with compressed air, sometimes with success, sometimes not. Finally I started getting tired of going through all of this, and I was starting to lose daylight, when suddenly I hear air. It seems that after a day of blasting, the brass ball valve at the nozzle actually got blasted right through, creating a hole in the side of it. I finished up for the day, emptying out the tank, blowing out all the lines, and refilling the tank to be ready for the next day. I replaced the ball valve (another 10 bucks) and got back to work the next day.

I still had similar problems most of the day. For a while all I could get it to do was to blow out tons of media and very little air. Other times it would sputter, and with each blast of air it removed a lot more bad stuff and used less media. With a valve adjustment I was able to get it much better, but still it was unreliable at best. By the end of the 2nd day, not only was the 2nd ball valve also shot, but I was getting really tired of the ritual of blasting, adjusting, sweeping up, blasting, adjusting, sweeping up, on and on all day.

Bottom line...this thing worked. It was a pain in the ass, but it got the job done. I concluded that doing your own blasting is a lot like home brewing. Making your own beer takes a lot of time, is expensive, and it probably doesn't taste any better than what you buy at the store, but there's nothing like the satisfaction of drinking your own beer. I'm into nearly 300 dollars with this project now. Could I have gotten all of these parts done "professionally" for the same amount ? I really have no idea, but I'm thinking there's a good chance, but again there's nothing like the satisfaction you get from doing it yourself.
Also, I have no confidence that anyone else would have done as good a job as I did on these parts, taking the time to thoroughly inspect each piece to be sure that not a trace of paint or rust remained. This thing definitely has a lot of quirks, and even borderlines on being a pain in the ass, but in 2 days it did not only all of the parts that I hoped it would, but a batch of much larger parts as well that I planned on having to have done at a large shop.

fall blasting

Why you should plan on doing your blasting in the fall (If you live in a cold climate)

1. The weather is perfect, not too cold to need heavy clothes, but not too hot to be in a Tyvek suit all day.

2. It's usually windy, so the dust will disperse instead of collecting all around you, and if you're lucky it will         disperse all over your neighbors' stuff instead of yours.

3. This is a messy job, and there's a lot of cleanup time. You're always gonna end up with a lot of product on the ground, and since you're going to be using your leaf blower on the yard several times in the next few weeks anyhow, it'll help to disperse all of it over time.

4. This is a NOISY job. Your compressor will be running non-stop, the sound of the blasting is very loud, and you'll be doing it all day. Everyone's windows are closed, and nobody's sitting around outside relaxing, in fact most people are out running leaf blowers so it's much less likely that you will piss off your neighbors.


                                All material herein copyright 2012 Mitch Amatrudo Voice, Music, and Sound