Color Coding
© Frank Ford 2004; Photos by FF

Here's another really simple trick I've used for years to identify stuff.

First, a look a the old way:

It didn't seem to matter how I labeled metal rods, or how many labels were on each one. They always ended up looking like this.


These days, metal stock is hardly cheap. But, spray paint is. So I use spray cans to identify various grades of steel in my "inventory."

Here's my assortment of colors:

You might notice that the purple can is separated from the bunch. If you'd like to know why, just click here.

So, when I get some new stock, I massacre it. (You know - line it up and shoot it.) Here, I have some new 304 stainless rods, and I'm painting them from end to end:

With the whole length painted, I don't worry about having to replace or move labels as I use part of the length. A quick wipe with a paper towel moistened with acetone or lacquer thinner removes all traces of the paint, so I have no problem chucking in collets, or whatever. No matter how long I keep the metal or how I scuff it around or how I store it, there's always enough paint left on the surface for easy identification.


It's all fine to turn the can upside down and run out the paint, but I've found that if you REALLY want to keep the spray can at the ready for a long time, it really pays to run a bit of acetone through the little spray nozzle:

It's another one of those little habits that takes a while to form, but once "imprinted" it's a simple part of the process of using this kind of convenient modern item. If you didn't click on the link about the purple paint, this is another good reason to do so.

And, just because it's easy and cheap, I keep an old spray can cover on the shelf where I stash spare nozzles and tubes from paint and lube cans:

And, to make the can cover easy to remove I nip the grip ring:

Then, I can put the cover back on and it slips off easily. Before I figured out this little trick, I'd be whacking the cover each time I used the paint, and before long I'd chuck the cover out.

I have a sign with my color codes near the rack where my steel stock lives:

Ain't it great to be able to print your own professional typeset signs? Not so long ago, the big deal was "erasable bond." Now anybody can produce a perfect typed page, or photo, or just about any graphic thing with a home computer. Gotta love technology!

My color coding is really important for me to use on steel because steel all looks pretty much the same, but since I buy only 6061 aluminum and 360 brass, I really don't need to squirt those things - - or do I?  One exception is my stash of 3/8" brass rod.  I get orders for batches of these little brass gizmos I make a hundred at a time from 2" long pieces of 3/8" diameter brass rod. 

I discovered the hard way that if I didn't watch the age of my rods, I might well grab a bunch from different shipments, and after cutting and mixing up a hundred blanks, I'd have a whole bunch that didn't fit equally in my 3/8 collet.  Seems there's a thou or two tolerance there - just enough for me to lose my grip. So, to avoid having to mic each one to be sure, I shoot the ends of each small shipment of brass rods before I put them in the rack.  That way, I know at a glance if I have enough matched ones to do the job:

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Zambesi Purple!

Believe it or don't:

In 1974, I was cruising to work as I often do, hitting a few Saturday garage sales on the way. At one, I bought a full case (12) of "Zambesi Purple" spray paint for six bucks. Over the next dozen years or so, we had any number of items painted (by me) in that color at Gryphon. Door stops, shaper templates, sanding blocks, clamping cauls, and so many other little thingies. My partner (35 years at this point), Richard, got really tired of me painting stuff with the color, and I, too, really never had any special fondness for it except for the fact that it wasn't just purple, or lavender, but ZAMBESI purple. I mean, how exotic can you get? OK, I suppose you could spell Zambezi correctly, but it's the thought that counts, yes?

Well, about a year ago, I was moving some crapola (a technical term, meaning "dreck") from one of the thousand or more corners in our shop, which we've been cramming with stuff since we moved in 1976, and I ran into an actual VIRGIN can of ZAMBESI PURPLE! Wow! I'd-a thought the stuff was long gone. I showed it to Richard, who said, with all the sensitivity he could muster, "Get that outa here!" Jeez, you'd think he'd have forgotten after all these years. But then, I looked around the shop, and, sure enough, there are still doorstops, window wedges, fixtures, and things painted that color.

Now I have this one precious can of ZP. I started out using it to color code some steel when I realized I'd never be able to match it again, so I switched over to more primary colors.

Years from now, when he least expects it, I'll paint something of Richard's with it (nyuk, nyuk).

Why all this sentimental drivel about a spray can of paint? I dunno, but it really amazes me that such a cheap-o disposable product is still as alive after THIRTY years as the day I bought it. I mean, it's almost worth getting old to see stuff like this! (OK, I suppose THAT was a bit much.) At any rate it gives me a reason to keep my nozzles clean and have some spray cans at the ready for color coding.