New aluminum cheeks for a Jupiter 8 Part 1:/ Laser Cutting

(Note: To be read in the voice of Jeremy Clarkson…)

Such a seemingly simple thing …getting some new aluminium cheeks for Cora made up. Such a drama.

Getting trade businesses to actually do something for you is such a frustrating and energy-draining exercise. From my experience, the closer into town they are located, the longer they take and the less they care about doing the job well or in reasonable time. They need to be called and called for updates and massaged just to keep your job seemingly in a mysterious and fluid “queue” and even then after all the torment it still doesn’t get done. You end up hearing all about the problems with their business over the period (“…the guy we had here just took off..”,”I got bigger jobs I have to clear first then I’m into yours first thing”,”…our supplier has just gone under …”,”Christmas has thrown a spanner in the works”, “Easter is coming up”…etc etc). It never ends.

I dropped off Cora’s two road-beaten Aluminium end cheeks to a local workshop closeby in November of last year, to be remade. A fairly simple job you would have thought….

a closeup of the damage due to Cora’s hard-living past…from collisions undoubtedly with keyboard stands, microphone stands, roadcase hinges, flying beer bottles, lead singers’ stage-diving antics etc:

The first business I visited was described as a “metal workshop”. The guy took a look at them and said “sure, no problem” and took me for a walk through his factory to the rear where he located some clean 4mm thick Aluminium sheets, perfect for the job. Excellent. He already had the raw material to get started. “Give me a week, or so.” Every Trademan’s first universal rule that all the buggers learn… be vague with dates and purposely leave any deadline open-ended. Hence the “…or so” thrown in at the end. That “…or so” seems to give them license to extend a week to over 6 months. The other trick that Tradesmen employ when you attempt to nail them down to a completion date is the old “I’ll call you when it’s ready” chestnut. It goes something like this:

Me: “So how long do u think it will take?”

Shady Tradesman: “A week OR SO…” (note the necessary insertion of “or so”)

Me:”So if I come around in 2 weeks, on the Monday, it would definitely be ready then because that’s 2 weeks away, and you think a week is all you need, that’s what you just said … Right?”

Shady Tradesman: “…um..I’ll call you when it’s ready Ok.”

Then you don’t receive a call after the 2 weeks, the Monday passes, you wait another week to REALLY make sure it’s ready and then you call back yourself …and the explanations begin.

This went on for 6 weeks before the first workshop finally produced… something. But oh my god what a dogs breakfast it was. It looked like some kid had hacked away at a chunk of Aluminium with pliers and then filed the edges with a brick. It was missing curves altogether, and the edges were rounded off unevenly in places. The left and right cheek had differences in shape by over 1cm in places! If I had presented this in my 5th grade school workshop as a finished product it would have been a FAIL. But he had the audacity to hand this over the counter as “job done” with the added “…you just need to get a Polisher to finish it off… we don’t do that here.” My eyes were shocked. Unfortunately I don’t have a pic of it because i handed it straight back over and said “how about you try again” and he essentially chastised me for complaining, saying that it was as good as it was going to get and that if I was not happy the best thing was for me to just take my money back if I was going to be fussy (I had to pay up front to get the job started). Thankfully he offered me this option as I gently mentioned that “perhaps that would be best” and got the hell outa there. He did offer me one piece of advice as I had my hand on the door knob to leave ..”what YOU need I think is a Metal ENGINEERING place if you are going to get pedantic about the result. Try the one down the road.” And that’s exactly where I went. I jumped in my car and without a moment to spare (I had already lost 6 weeks) I drove straight to “Attempt #2” Metal engineering.

His workshop had some impressive looking industrial machinery. It was a big factory, but with only one guy named “Gary” there. (That should have been my first warning sign… one guy in a huge workshop? Where were all the others?). He agreed to take on the job, explained to me that it would be “perfect”, but quoted me twice the price of the original hack-job place. Well I figured it would be double the price but this time done properly. So away he went, keeping Cora’s original cheeks for reference and giving me the textbook Tradesman response “Give me a couple of weeks… I’ll call you when they’re ready.” Yep. Why do I always believe them when I should know better?

Two weeks turned into 4 weeks at which point I was told categorically that they would be done “before Christmas…”.

Christmas comes and goes, and of course the workshop is closed for 3 weeks until Jan 21st, and then the excuses of “we are really backed up with jobs from being closed for 3 weeks…”. Then another 4 weeks and then he proclaims “I’m really embarrassed now, yep let’s get this job sorted for you before Easter…”. Then Easter comes and goes … and then apparently he’s running behind due to Easter holiday messing things up. Another 3 weeks and my normally patient and reasonable self starts to get a little cranky with this and does a calculation of the time so far and it’s been over 5 months.

I finally walk into the workshop on a Monday and there’s a young trainee guy there working the machines who tells me that Gary was “away on holiday for 3 weeks”. I had not seen this guy before and explained the situation to him, he had no idea about the job but had wondered about the Aluminium “brackets” that were sitting on the bench. I asked him if, under the circumstances, he could give them some priority and them done by the end of the week after waiting over 5 months and he said casually “probably.. not…”. So I calmly walked over to Cora’s cheeks, took them back into my possession and made a B-line for the door, bumping into another customer who had just arrived on my way out as I was leaving. Now with an audience I spun on my heels and politely told the trainee guy to make sure he passses on the message to Gary to “Go Fuck Himself”.

Back to square one.

I sat in the car out the front in the street…thinking to myself “surely it can’t be this hard to get someone to do something as simple as this? Even I could bloody make them…” and considered the possibility for a moment. Then I made a plan to simply break this job down into 4 parts and manage them myself.

There was no way someone was going to do all of this for me in a “one stop shop” and if they did agree to do it then the cost would be so high as to be ridiculous so this was really the only way.

There were plenty of metal laser cutting places around. I went and visited two nearby with Cora’s cheeks. It quickly became apparent that no laser cutter wants the job without something called a “dwg Autocad file” as they needed one to feed the laser and making them was “too much stuffing around and too time consuming to be worth while”. I would have to make this file myself. Part 1 just became more complicated.

The Autocad software was a completely foreign beast to me, and Adobe Illustrator and i have just never gotten along well, but Coreldraw and I had a basic understanding, I had learnt how to use it whilst tweaking Jeff Toman from Custom Synth’s Jupiter 8 decal file. And it could output a .dwg file too which was fortunate. So I spent a few nights measuring and designing Cora’s metal end cheeks in Coreldraw to perfect specification. Finally the laser cutters would actually give me a quote! And they all accepted the dwg file. Here it my file available for download, zipped along with a pdf representation of what’s inside to view:

So now I had my file to cut. I wanted 3 quotes (the official minimum for a reasonable comparison) so i contacted 5 laser cutting places. Because from experience two always don’t get back to you. I called them all to get a feel for the place (don’t email a workshop for a quote if you want a response!) and they all wouldn’t quote without seeing the file ..”send it thru first” they said …Sure enough, only 3 responded out of the 5. Two were similar and a reasonable price. They both said it was the same price whether I made 2 or 4 cheeks. I figured that I was going to make 4 cheeks in that case! And have 2 as spare in case there was a drilling mis-hap, or to sell later. The third place quoted DOUBLE the cost of the other 2. I rang him back and asked him why and was quite rudely and he abruptly said “I DONT NEED THE WORK MATE” which is a classic trap and why you always get 3 quotes. This asshole knew the going price for the job but wanted to see if I was stupid enough not to get other quotes and “tried it on” by quoting double the cost. He was hoping to rip me off, either way it appears he could not care less. He failed. Always ask for 5 quotes (if possible) and don’t start until you have 3 is the lesson my father taught me years ago.

So away i went with one quote and 8 days later I had 4 basic Aluminium Jupiter 8 cheeks…

Next up… time to drill the holes and countersinks…