Machinery designer and die maker by day, mad scientist the rest of the time

 

restored high school chandelier
Restored chandelier at Cleveland Heights High School

(Courtesy of HGR Customer and Guest Blogger Christopher Palda)

Christopher Palda

How I became an HGR customer

I heard of HGR Industrial Surplus mainly from word of mouth. I used to deal with McKean Machinery where my boss sent me until it was bought by a New York firm and they got rid of the odds and end. As a result, they lost some customers. Many people that buy the little stuff at HGR see the large ticket items and send others they know who need these items. Employees left McKean to start HGR; so, it was a natural transition. You’ll see some of the things I’ve bought at HGR mentioned in the story below.

Recently, my workplace bought a MIG welder at HGR for the construction of Dan T. Moore Company’s plastic extrusion and rolling machine that is the size of a room. It’s for extruding plastic and rolling it into film. What they had at the welding supply store was not what we needed. We required a 100-percent duty cycle machine that could run all day long and found one at HGR.

What I do for work

I’m a die maker and do die repair, hydraulics, welding, machine tool wiring, basically an industrial maintenance technician who handles anything electrical, hydraulic and mechanical. I work for Mahar Spar Industries. A spar is the main strut in a sailboat, and the founder’s name is Mike Mahar. He started out making spars and sailboat masts in his garage in his spare time, and the business evolved from that point. Many ask me the origin of that unique name. I’ve been there for 20 years, and prior to that I was at NASA Glenn Research Center doing composite metallurgy research for jet engine applications and at the same time on a joint project working at Cleveland State University doing metallurgical research in the chemical engineering department where I built the metallurgy lab.

Some of the things I’ve built

One of the items that I am proud of that mostly came from HGR is a hyperbaric chamber. My doctor said that it would be helpful for my health to use one, but medical insurance wouldn’t cover treatments for this off-label use that was proposed; so, I came to HGR and built my own from used air compressor parts for pennies on the dollar. A new one for medical purposes costs $75,000. They usually are purchased by hospitals and medical facilities to treat diabetic patients with wounds that won’t heal, necrotizing fasciitis, carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning, and scuba diving accidents and are used in clinical studies and trials to increase brain function in people with autism and a few other applications. I am a diver, but luckily haven’t had an accident yet and have not had to use it for that purpose. It cost me about $4,000 to build mine. By dumb luck I found a medical air compressor at HGR normally used in a dental office for the chamber along with a $1,200 medical oxygen regulator for $15 that just needed to be rebuilt. It basically functions as an isolation chamber, and you breathe pure oxygen through a mask as the oxygen regulator increases its output by using the chamber pressure as a reference point.

compressor tank from HGR before it was converted into a hyperbaric chamber
compressor tank from HGR before it was converted into a hyperbaric chamber
hyperbaric chamber side view
outside of completed hyperbaric chamber
inside of handmade hyperbaric chamber made from surplus at HGR Industrial Surplus
inside of finished hyperbaric chamber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bike trail cutting machine
bike trail cutting machine

We do projects for the Dan T. Moore Company, who also is an HGR customer. Dan believes Cleveland doesn’t have enough bike trails; so, he dropped off a small bulldozer and wanted it converted into a bike trail cutting machine. With our custom attachment it became something that looked like a bulldozer, meat grinder, snow blower hybrid. Some of the hydraulic parts came from HGR. He also wanted to build a steel mill in Bolivia at one point in the past, and we were doing a mockup of the process. We needed a large blower. His people were going everywhere else looking for stuff. I found one at HGR that looked and roared like a jet engine that was 125hp, and it worked great!

bakery oven
bakery oven

Additionally, I do maintenance work at a bakery that has a huge electric oven made in Italy that you can’t get parts for; so, you have to manufacture the parts yourself. Its internal electric flash boiler caramelizes the bread giving it that hard crust by explosively filling the deck with wet steam at the beginning of each bake cycle. The original boiler could not keep up and self-destructed. I copied the basic design with some improvements and made one five times larger. Some of its parts came from HGR.

I also work for Whitney Stained Glass Studio doing artistic metalwork restoration and conservation along with fabricating window frames. Projects include the windows at Stan Hywet Hall and the restoration of the outside stained glass lamps for St. James Catholic Church in Lakewood after a bird built a nest in it. The owner turned it on, and it caught on fire, which melted the solder. I had to strip the patina to fix it, which is considered a no no because it was covered in plastic. I said, “Watch me age this thing 100 years in minutes.” I stuck it in bleach and salt water and put power to it like in a plating operation and totally corroded the thing in 40 minutes.

welder from HGR
TIG welder from HGR

To put the hyperbaric chamber together, I needed to purchase a large TIG stick welder. I found a Miller at HGR for a fraction of the cost of a new one. It didn’t work and needed a little TLC, but if I buy it and it doesn’t work out it’s nice to know I can return it within 30 days. I got it for the cost of the copper scrap, gave it a bath, found a simple control issue and brought it back from the dead. It pulls 105 amps at 240 when I’m welding heavy aluminum. I would turn it on and watch the neighbor’s lights dim. Is the problem 2B solved or not to be? That’s the question. A trip down HGR’s Aisle 2B for some capacitors solved the problem, and the neighbor’s lights didn’t dim anymore. The effect is like pouring a glass of beer. You want the beer but not the foam. These capacitors get rid of the electrical equivalent of the foam.

You know the big speaker in the opening scene of Back to the Future? I said to a friend, “Cool, let’s build one.” A 5-hp stereo system was born! The neighbor would call me for requests when I fired it up in the summer while he was cutting his lawn as long as I played his stuff. The neighbors didn’t like heavy metal, and that’s when the heavy metal station Z Rock was on the air and when I hit the heavy-metal stage in my development.

Building a fire-breathing dragon for the play “Reluctant Dragon” at a children’s theater in 1985 was a blast. When I adapted an old CO2 fire extinguisher and put red lights in the mouth and eyes, it worked first rate. My electronics business in my parent’s basement when I was 10 or 11 aided in paying for this lunacy.

broken chandelier
mangled chandelier prior to restoration

Cleveland Heights High Schools auditorium has huge 300-pound chandeliers. One of them dropped about 35 feet while they were trying to change the light bulbs and smashed into smithereens — a mangled, twisted mess. Redoing all the artistic metal work was a challenge while many others at Whitney Stained Glass restored the stained glass globes.

Near-death experiences

Back in the caveman days, there were only five TV stations. You had to have a movie projector to watch movies. My dad got two 35mm machines from a drive-in that went out of business and modified the optics to work in a house. We had a movie theater in our basement. I was born with mechanical ability, but I learned and worked with my dad who also was handy and was a self-taught mechanical and electrical and hydraulic engineer. He designed tooling and stamping dies along with pollution control in power plants. I could set up and operate these machines as a kid, and when my dad took off the TV back to work on it I saw that there was what looked like a small roll of film inside the that I thought had the Bugs Bunny cartoons on it. He yelled, “Don’t touch that! That is the fly back transformer and has 15,000 volts on it!’

He fixed the TV but left back off. One day, while I was watching it, the picture got odd. I realized the cat was inside. When I went to grab the cat so she would not get hurt, she jumped out and my hands landed on the flyback transformer and lit up blue. Afterward, I felt like lightning had hit me. I woke 15 minutes later across the room and had a revelation — that’s why it’s called a flyback transformer because when you grab one that is what you do!

Christopher Palda as a child working on a car
Christopher Palda as a child working on a car

Another time, as a little kid in the car at the gas station, I asked my mom why the man had a garden hose and was putting water in the car. Mom said it was gas but she wished it was water because it’s cheaper. At home, I put five gallons of water in the car to save mom money after I noticed the spout on the lawn mower gas can fit the end of the garden hose. We ended up stranded the next time we drove it.

I’ve had eight various experiments with electricity. It’s amazing that I’m still alive. I wondered how a vacuum cleaner worked. My dad explained the process of how it worked starting with electrons moving in the cord. I had to find out what an electron looked like; so, I opened up paper clips and was determined to go to the outlet and pull one out. I had two paper clips, one in each side. When they touched, there was a fiery explosion that burned my hands. I got to see a lot of electrons!

My vaporizer broke when I was sick. My dad fixed it by making a new part on his lathe. I saw how it opened up when he took it apart. When everyone was gone, I took it apart while it was plugged in and threw handfuls of salt at it with water to watch the explosions. The power main want “bang” as everything went dark in the house. A voice from downstairs yelled, “Christopher, what did you do now?”

Cleveland artist creates home décor products from reclaimed materials

Susie Frazier in front of welder

I know that your career in reclaimed art started when you rescued broken slate roofing tiles being torn off of buildings. Why did you do that?

I saw the tiles leaning on the side of a random building as raw material that was neglected. There was something so beautiful sitting there broken. It prompted me to buy an industrial-grade wet saw so that I could cut the fragments into small pieces that could be used for creating mosaic surfaces. I guess that I saw myself in the tile as I went through periods of neglect and wanted to be scooped up and turned into something new. It was subconscious. We learn and heal by doing. It was the beginning of my therapy. I went on to create an entire product line of picture frames, mirrors, benches, and tabletop accents that I sold through stores and galleries coast to coast. Now, 20 years later, I design products in a wide variety of reclaimed materials, including wood, steel and glass.

Did you create art prior to that time? Were you always an artist?

I have been selling my handmade creations since I was 14 years old. Eventually, I began freelancing as a graphic designer and worked in sales and marketing. In 1997, I was between jobs and bartending at night so that I could have time to make and sell my functional art during the day. Starting and growing is thematic for me. I found that I missed the process of building with my hands when using a computer all the time, but working with reclaimed construction materials was a bit of an education back then. This was before the term Going Green had been coined or the Maker Movement was a thing; so, people had to be taught about why industrial salvage was so amazing.

How did you go from being an artist to having a business and a fabrication shop that sells to top U.S. companies?

I spent many years selling my handmade art, furniture and gifts at festivals and trade shows across Ohio and beyond. Every year taught me something new about consumer buying habits, my products’ unique selling features, and how to drive more sales. In 2010, I grew out of the festival scene and set up a permanent showroom inside 78th Street Studios. Once I presented my work in a more sophisticated manner with an actual point-of-sale system, I was able to attract more serious customers who wanted me to create custom furniture, wall features, corporate gifts, and high-end home décor. Once the demand grew, I had no choice but to farm out aspects of production to various fabricators I trusted. That was the only way for me to scale.

How has your work evolved?

I went from being known as just a fine artist to being a successful product designer to now expanding into interior design services. Recently, I curated the two-bedroom model suite of a 306-unit multi-family housing development at The Edison at Gordon Square, filling it with custom art and furniture that I designed with the help of many local makers in Cleveland.

Who is your favorite artist?

Andy Goldsworthy, a prominent eco-artist of our time, works with found organic materials to create biomimic outdoor sculptures. He then takes photos as they decompose over time. It’s stunning work. Since I’ve been focusing more on accessories and small furniture these days, I have been very interested in other product designers and what they are doing. I’m a huge fan of Nottingham Spirk and all the products they’ve invented for major brands around the world. They design for function not just beauty, and that’s very important to me.

The Cleveland Bolo, jewelry by Susie FrazierWhat kinds of items are you currently making?

I just launched a new jewelry item a few months ago that I can’t keep in stock – The Cleveland Bolo. It’s made from real leather and scrap pieces of .5” square steel rod from my buddy’s metal shop. It’s very simple but modern. Other makers in town build tables out of reclaimed wood, and, sometimes I will dig through their piles of scrap for discards that I can repurpose into some small product. I call that polyclaiming, when the material is on its second or third generation of being repurposed.

Why did you locate at 78th Street, and why Cleveland?

In 2010, I went out to look for a location where people were already starting to migrate for art and design. 78th Street had the only thing going with dozens of makers in one place, as one destination. Plus they had the marketing and programming to back it up rather than simply being a sleepy live/work building.

I’m from the Southwest – born in Los Angeles but grew up in Scottsdale, Denver and Boulder. The desert and the mountains have definitely influenced my aesthetic. Right out of college in 1992, I married a man from Cleveland, and through that experience I also fell in love with the city. Before that, I had never been further east than the Mississippi. Ultimately, I became fascinated with the organic and industrial paradox of Cleveland, which has inspired my design aesthetic from the beginning. We truly are a forest city.

What made you decide to make Movers & Makers, your TV show that was piloted locally on WKYC and is being shopped to networks right now?

Having been in business for 20 years with a distinct brand around handmade, artistic products, I felt it was time to share my story with a broader audience both inside and outside of Cleveland. The purpose of Movers & Makers as a TV show is to propel the Maker Movement and my role in it through an entertaining platform. I see great value in giving more air time to the creative process and not just to the before and after. Besides, there’s a huge audience of women out there who are strong DIY champions and who are capable of things their mothers weren’t. Through woodworking, welding, and computer technology, they’re making all kinds of things and becoming entrepreneurs in the process. That’s what it’s all about. I love the instant gratification skills, like welding, and showing women how easy it is to try something new without fear. By following the furniture or art projects my team and I work on, Movers & Makers shows America that when you apply your creative mind, amazing things are possible. People don’t have to be intimidated.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working in your studio?

I really enjoy yoga, which grounds me physically and spiritually, but I’m a huge fan of horses, hiking, walks along the beach and dancing. I was also an all-state shortstop in high school; so, I love throwing the baseball around. Three years ago, I got behind an indie folk rock band as a manager and helped them produce and promote two albums. I have three kids — 15, 13 and 12; so, I guess I just wanted them to see by example how to experience the richness of life.

Have you shopped at HGR?

In 2010, I became a customer when I heard about HGR from a guy in my building. I told him that I was looking for a rolling cart. He sent me to HGR where I met Tom Tiedman, my salesman, with whom I’ve worked all these years. I’ve repurposed carts, cleaned them up, and inlaid reclaimed wood to make killer side tables. Recently, I bought a bin of washers that were welded into a sculptural award for Crain’s Cleveland Business. I’ve also purchased practical things like filing cabinets and office equipment.

What’s next?

In the coming weeks, my partners at Mont Surfaces and I are launching a webisodes series about my Reflective Design philosophies for creating a sense of calm through various home improvement decisions. I’m a big fan of designing mindful spaces, so the furnishings, the materials, and the colors support well-being. Sourcing salvage items that hold special meaning for the homeowner is a huge part of that. The series will be posted at www.susiefrazier.com, or you can come to one of 78th Street Studios art walks, called THIRD FRIDAYS, taking place on the third Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. We will most likely run this on a monitor throughout the night.

What is your philosophy?

Making the brokenness beautiful.

coffee table from recycled wooddriftwood wall design

Teacher helps industrial arts student with projects

Brenna Truax welding

(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Eric Dimitrov, Walsh Jesuit High School teacher)

I am a high school teacher (I see you help Euclid and other high schools) who has a student, Brenna Truax, currently enrolled in The University of Cincinnati’s industrial design program. In the program she will be in a studio space where she will working with various media, including wood, plastic and metal. Our school is great but does not offer industrial arts; so, I have been helping her prepare. I am a self-taught welder (actually bought my stick welder from HGR), and I have been working with her to craft some industrial-art-based projects. In the photo, we’re working to make a light from a cam shaft.

I told her about some of the art and cool furniture HGR has. And so, we will be making a trip to look at it. I cannot promise that the final project(s) would look nice enough for your new office space, but it is for a student to learn on and work with. I am thinking big nuts, gears, shafts — materials we can work to weld into a sculpture or shelving or table legs.

April is National Welding Month!

welder with shield and sparks

In support of the American Welding Society, we’re celebrating all the talented, hardworking welders who make many of the objects that we use and appreciate on a daily basis, especially those that get us where we need to go. Welding was discovered in the 1800s and has continued to make strides. Consider a career in welding and talk to your local community college or trade school, or let us know if you are a welder and what you weld. Thank you, welders!

If you’re looking for welding equipment, HGR Industrial Surplus has affordable new and used items to fit out your weld shop.

Jan. 14: HGR’s monthly customer appreciation Saturday sale

We’re open one Saturday per month and offer a full, hot, free breakfast to those who swing by the showroom. Check out the sales!

HGR Saturday Jan. 14, 2017 customer appreciation sale flyer

An update on HGR’s 2015 manufacturing scholarship recipient

Jon Berkel Elyria Foundry
(photo courtesy of Elyria Foundry)

(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Jonathan Berkel, 2015 HGR Industrial Surplus Manufacturing Scholarship recipient)

Ever since I received the manufacturing scholarship from HGR Industrial Surplus in 2015 and graduated from Elyria High School and Lorain County JVS where I studied welding and fabrication, I have been furthering my education at Lorain County Community College to earn an associate of science degree. In fall 2017, I will be transferring to The Ohio State University to earn my bachelor’s degree in welding engineering.

For the past year and half at Lorain County Community College I have been taking classes in math, science, English and general education that will transfer to The Ohio State University. These courses will prepare me for future courses that I will take in order to pursue my degree.

While attending classes, I work part-time, and I work full-time when classes are not in session at Elyria Pattern Co., since I graduated high school as a welder and a pattern maker. I do a little bit of everything. I am working on some projects for Elyria Foundry. I also have been working on frames for the base of the patterns. These frames go on the base of the pattern to give the base stronger support.

I would like wish all the 2017 scholarship nominees good luck.

Jon Berkel welding
(Jonathan welding)