Thursday, August 29, 2019

Two More for the Car Kit

While at work the other day, I realized how much duct tape we go through in a year. Granted, I work with a lot of outdated and poorly maintained machinery, but looking through the inventory logs I found that we use four times more than we sell.

Duct Tape
Duct tape is one of those "must have" items in a car kit. The uses are endless and it's easy enough to use that a child can figure it out. Be aware that the cheap dollar-store brands are a waste of money; the adhesive used is weak and not always waterproof, and the cloth backing is rarely attached to the tape well enough to withstand much weather. I prefer what is known as gaffer's tape, a type of duct tape made for the entertainment industry. (Gaffers are the "behind the scenes" people in music and movie production who spend a lot of time making sure everything goes right and that means a lot of quick repairs.) It's almost as good as the military-grade duct tape that I can't get any more (my supplier retired) and it will stick to almost anything except grease. Gaffer's tape should also be residue-free, meaning that the adhesive won't leave sticky residue behind, and most of it is a matte black color to avoid reflections.

A tip that I want to pass on about duct tape is that most brands come on a standardized cardboard tube. That tube just happens to be 3" in diameter, and is a perfect fit for dust caps or test caps for 3" PVC piping. Prices for test caps online is all over the place, and watch out for high shipping costs, but I have found them in a local DIY store for less than a buck apiece. Two of them will turn your roll of duct tape into a small storage box a bit bigger than an Altoids tin, which is a good use for wasted space and it might help you keep a few tools close to hand when you grab the tape. If you can't find test caps locally, keep an eye open in the mail room because the caps for 3" shipping tubes will work just as well.

Tie Wire
The second addition to a car kit should be some sort of tie wire. Being a farm-boy, I learned about baling wire a long time ago. Generally around 14 gauge (0.080 inch diameter), uncoated steel wire that a hay baler would use to secure small square bales of hay, the stuff was everywhere and used for every imaginable binding purpose -- I know of a lot of field gates that are still held closed by a length of baling wire. Farmers have moved to the large round bales in today's market, but you can still find small operations that use the little square bales for horses (they'll eat themselves to death if you give them a big bale) and straw for bedding.

Baling wire comes in 100 pound spools of over a mile of wire, so it's not practical for a car kit. If wire is too hard for you to cut or too stiff for the job, baling twine comes in similar spools and is jute, sisal, or polypropylene fiber. At ~8,000 feet per spool, two spools per package (the baling machines use them two at a time), this is best kept in a five-gallon bucket with a hole in the lid to feed the twine out of. It's handy to have sitting under a shelf in a garage or shop, but too big for an emergency kit.

This is what rebar tie wire was made for. It comes in smaller spools -- about 3.5 pounds, 330 feet long -- and slightly smaller wire (16 gauge/0.0625 inch diameter), but it's just as handy to have around. I've used partial rolls that I picked up out of construction site trash cans (they're already lighter) to patch up a lot of things long enough to get me home. For example, a friend hit a speed bump a little too fast and tore off his muffler, but a tie wire and a beverage can patched it up long enough to get back home. A rocking chair had to have the wooden joints re-glued and I don't have any clamps big enough, so washcloths for padding and tie wire did the trick. I don't think I can remember all of the times I've used some form of tie wire.

Both forms of tie wire feed from the center of the spool, which means the spool doesn't have to rotate as you pull the wire. A trick I learned from the construction workers is to wrap the outside of the rebar tie wire spool in a few layers of duct tape before use. This keeps the spool from getting caught on other things in a tool pouch, and prevents it from unspooling after you've cut the shipping ties.

If you live near the coast and plain steel wire will rust too fast for you, there is a more expensive option: stainless steel tie wire. I've seen this used for temporary binding of sheet metal and other things is damp or corrosive environments, and it's the same size and weight as the plain steel wire.

Holding things together until permanent repairs can be made is a key to field-expedient repairs. Make sure you have something a little stronger and more heat-resistant than zip-ties in your car kit.

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