One suggestion; if you can cut out more than one blank at a time, it's more profitable. Perhaps a stack of blanks cut out with a plasma cutter, using a guide plate or some such. Or maybe a pantograph on the P. Cutter with a drawing.
Thank you for the suggestion – yes if I could cut more than one blank at a time it would lower production costs. You mention the use of a plasma cutter (which I do not own) and as a result I am going to go off on a sidebar to point out several things which factor into making an item such as these levers. It is my hope that it will help educate others about regarding what is involved in reproducing a part such as the levers that are NLA. Every service or item I provide for someone else (such as a reproduction seat cover as an example) is done with the expectation of making some sort of return on investment which in my world should generate money to pay for the materials involved and my time involved. I have a charitable side that does things expecting no monetary reward such as making the GTTalk calendar, cleaning up manuals to make them easier to read and posting repairs I do on my own equipment so others may learn how something can be repaired rather than parked and replaced. I also have a business side to me that allows me to make things such as seat covers so that I can generate a small income (that I pay income tax on) that allows me to continue to own and operate my garden tractors just the same as a lot of other members do by repairing other peoples tractors or buying and selling tractors or parting them out.
While the majority of people involved in collecting and repairing / restoring older garden tractors share a passion and love for the hobby like any other thing in the commercial world we live in the words of profit / loss and return on investment enter into things when parts fabricating for someone else is desired. While I love to work on and operate the older tractors repair and maintenance are facts of life and while I don’t value my time when I repair or sometimes make items for tractors as one offs for myself when someone else approaches me to make an item such as these levers I have to establish a price on what it will cost to make versus what the person requesting the item is willing to pay. I have witnessed a lot of people over the years become business owners because they started doing something they liked and had a passion for discover too late that they were providing a service or product to others thinking they were making tons of money only to discover too late that they were working for nothing or at a loss when all the expenses they were incurring were factored in. Some survived because they got business training or good advise and adjusted their rates and thinking to become profitable businesses but the majority eventually realized too late they had unintentionally become business owners operating at a loss and ended up working for someone to subsidize this or to pay off debts that they had accumulated or worse - becoming insolvent and declaring bankruptcy.
Parts providers (such as Brian) not only first have to establish a need for a part but they must also take a very hard look at each item and factor in all the costs before they go ahead investing their money into having a NLA part reproduced. While it is great to have a passion that wishes every NLA part number available to sell the business sense must be in control so that the item sells to make a profit and return on investment or they will not be in business very long.
In the same manner I had to look at the making of the levers in the same light. When Brian and I first discussed me trying to make the levers I had to determine the quantity of each style lever would initially be desired by him and also try and figure out how much I would need to charge for each lever versus how much I would have to invest to make each lever. We had established a quantity of approximately 10 of each style so this had to be factored into any investment of special tools I might purchase just to make the levers and here is where an item such as a plasma cutter could not be justified by me.
I have thought about a getting a plasma cutter for the last 15 years but to me they are an expense I cannot justify for the few times it might be handy to have. For most metal cutting needs I use a hack saw unless they are thick in which case my 25 year old chop saw gets set up outside so the sparks don’t present a possible fire hazard. I find that a saws-all works wonder for cutting long lengths of heavier sheet metal and light steel that cannot be cut using tin sips. To date these tools have done the trick and since I am on a limited fixed income I have to look at any large dollar item as an investment and ask myself “will it pay for itself”? To purchase a plasma cutter in Canada and get something at the starter level I would probably be looking at around $700.00 which to me is large dollars for a shop tool that up until now did not require. Figuring if I made 40 levers (20 of each style) over the next few years it would add a cost of $17.50 to the cost of making each lever that I would have to add on just to break even on a plasma cutter. Add to this the time and expense to create a guide plate or pantograph so I could cut out blanks quicker on a very low number production and I quickly ruled out a plasma cutter as a viable option for me to make them given the short run quantities involved.
I still had to figure out a way to create the bends so they were consistent and crisp and as I stated it was at this point that from a logical business point of view me making the levers was not going to happen until I could make one lever that looked close to being bent the way it was by the factory process. If you look closely at the first picture of the short lever you will notice the heat bluing of the metal as I tried different methods to replicate the bends. I would try a method and after I found out it did not produce the desired effect I would straighten the bend back out so the metal was flat again. This fatigued and cracked the steel so I had to weld the cracks back up using the mig welder so I could try the bend again. The other option was making a new blank and the welding and reusing process was quicker and a less expensive way of finding methods that didn't work.