03 January, 2015

Shop Update: January, 2015

Welcome to 2015!  I celebrated the beginning of the new year by working in my basement shop then went to the dentist the next day.  Both the shop work and the visit with my dentist went well.  Thankfully the only pain came from the dentist.  That repair, a broken tooth, was a little aggressive.  Not having any dental insurance any visit to the dentist is "out of pocket" so I haven't been going for regular inspections.  One resolution for the new year is to get my teeth checked, at least, annually.  The cost of a cleaning and inspection is less than the deductible of any insurance plan I've looked into so it will be money well spent.  I think that's enough about my big mouth.  Let's move on.

I started making videos for my YouTube channel again.  Though Google isn't forcibly integrating Google+ into things anymore, it (G+) is still intertwined with YouTube.  I spent the majority of 2014 not making videos, not being able to interact with my viewers and not uploading new content (save for one little guitar lesson, which is private, that I uploaded for my niece.)  I decided to call my personal battle with G+ a draw.  I found that I was able to comment on videos because I either changed something in my settings or it was done automatically.  Either way it doesn't make any difference to me because the one big problem I had with the G+ integration into YouTube, the difficulty communicating with my viewers, is gone.  It's nice to be "back" and I'm looking forward to publishing videos again. 

Lot's of things have changed in my shops (I consider my garage and basement to be two separate shops) over the past year.  A short glimpse of some of the changes can be seen in my recent shop update video.  The two biggest changes were the addition of a new work bench and some machines.  Why do I have a budding machine shop?  The answer involves a story.

A few years ago I was showing a new coworker how I repaired a chain gear on a lift gate.  It was/is a common repair for a regular customer as they have many trucks with the same model lift gate.  Ultron lift gates are complete garbage by the way.  Long story short, these gears, which guide the chains, originally have needle bearings pressed in which an "axle" passes through.  We did not maintain these trucks from day one and the previous shop never lubricated anything on the lift gates.  So, these bearings began to fail frequently.  The first one I did was supposed to be temporary as we didn't have any bearings on hand.  I was told later that the bearings were unavailable.  I honestly don't think the parts guy tried too hard to find replacement bearings but that's a different story.  My "temporary" repair became "the" repair and having done it so often, I've become quite good at it.  I would press out what remained of the needle bearing, find an used brass fitting (which we have in spades) and grind it down just enough to be a press fit into the gear.  I would then drill the fitting to fit the pin/axle.  As I was doing this repair for the second time I thought "Gee, this would be super easy on a lathe.  I could make a handful of bushings and simply keep them in stock."  As I was showing my coworker how to perform this "repair" he said "I think I'll go *chuckle* and chuck this *ha, ha* up in the lathe *Bwah, ha, ha, Ha!!!*"  We were both laughing out tails off.  You see, the most "precision" machine in our shop is a drill press.  Considering the people I work with, precision machines such as lathes and milling machines would not survive in that shop.  The shop is always cluttered and messy because most of my coworkers are like toddlers.  Considering they rarely get used, it's hard to find one of the many brooms we have.  Oh, that's right.  Things rarely get put back where they belong.  Of the three bench grinders we have, not one of them has a flat grinding surface.  And that drill press?  Usually full of chips despite a chip brush always being right next to it.  So it became a running joke between me and that one coworker.  There was usually some version of "Why are you grinding that?  Just go put it in the millin...Oh, that's right.  The milling machine is out for repair."

Because of that situation I began to see my job with a new set of eyes.  Almost daily I would see simple parts, tools or tool repairs that could be done easily (and with precision) on a lathe.  Bushings, seal installers, pullers, bushing drivers, all manner of screws...  About one and a half years ago it got to the point that I decided to start looking for a lathe.  I kinda brought it up to my boss that a lathe would be very, very handy to have in his shop.  He took a little interest in the idea as I had a pretty good plan already laid out.  Then I remembered those poor grinders and the ailing drill press.  I dropped the machine shop idea immediately and began looking for a lathe I would be able to get in my basement.  My OWN machine shop.  I started scouring Craigslist and the local classifieds, asked people if they knew of anyone selling a lathe.  It was a difficult search.  I knew what I could afford and I knew the kind of lathe I could handle.  I couldn't get any bigger than, maybe, a 12" lathe as weight was an issue.  Any lathe I found would have to get into my basement via stairs.  That meant that when broken down into major components (head stock, bed, base etc.) the heaviest part couldn't be anything heavier than two people could manage, safely, down a flight of stairs.  I also didn't want a lathe that was too small.  You can make small parts on a big lathe but not the other way around.  Unfortunately, the size of lathe I wanted is very popular and they rarely lasted more than a day or two on Craigslist.  My work schedule also prohibited me from going to see a lathe during the week.  I would find a new listing after work, I would call the next day and it would already be sold.  One day at work the owner of another truck repair/welding & fabricating/hose & tube happened to be at our shop.  I knew he did a little machine work at his place and asked him if he knew anyone that had a lathe to sell.  He said "$200.  Stop by and have a look at it.  It's worn out and I just want it gone."  I went to his shop a couple of days later.  He led me into his machine shop/welding shop.  We walked around a tool wall/room divider towards a medium sized lathe and I started to get excited.  We kept on walking past that lathe and I was noticing his milling machine, the collet rack and other cool stuff.  As we got to the back of the building he points and says "There it is.  It's worn out, but still works flawlessly.  I just don't use the thing much."  I was staring down a monster.  It was a 16" South Bend.  It had the things I wanted,  quick change gear box, quick change tool post, live center and sundry other accessories.  It had been oiled regularly so there wasn't any corrosion, but not being used there was a lot of grime on it.  Not a big deal.  In my head I started breaking that beast down.  I would not be able to get the bed of that thing down the stairs, into my basement.  I was disappointed and explained to the guy that it was much too big for me and explained why.  I told him I was looking for something about the size of his other lathe, a LeBlond.  He was in the midst of purging his storage trailers and containers and mentioned he had a couple of small lathes he was going to scrap because he thought they were useless.  He said I was welcome to look at them and that he would sell them to me for scrap price.  I thought "What the heck.  Maybe I can, at the very least, have something to work with while looking for the lathe I want."  He showed me the two lathes.  Both had been sitting on a trailer full of scrap metal and had been rained on a couple of times.  One lathe was a Craftsman 109 series bolted down to a sturdy wood and metal table, even had a motor.  The other lathe was a very old Stark No.4 that had no chuck, no tail stock, no motor.  It was just a bed, cross/compound slides and a head stock.  "$75 for both." he said.  I handed over some cash, he and his guys loaded the stuff into my truck and off I went.  I decided to concentrate on the little Craftsman lathe since it was, mostly, complete.  I took the thing apart, cleaned everything, oil it all up and put it back together.  It's a change gear lathe and a lot of gears are missing.  Still and useful lathe, but no threading.  I ignored the Stark lathe and it rode around in the back of my truck (under a topper mind you) for a month.  Then, the guy I bought it from showed up at our shop with a big crate of stuff for me.  It was all the important bits that were missing from the Stark lathe and more.  Collets, a tail stock, drill chucks, three jaw chuck, misc. tooling and such.  The Stark lathe, which despite it's small size is one heavy machine, came out of the truck.  It got the same treatment I gave the Craftsman.  Even if I didn't use it soon, I wanted it to be cleaned, oiled and stable so it wouldn't deteriorate any further.  I took the Craftsman lathe home and left the Stark at work for a few months.  Then I hit the jackpot.

I had been continuing my search for the lathe I wanted and was still striking out.  Until I called a nice guy named Bernie about a 9" South Bend he was selling.  I read the ad at two in the morning and didn't wait.  I sent an email right away.  By the time I woke up, Bernie had replied and asked me to call him just to prove I was an actual person and not some sort of scam.  I asked some questions then explained that I would be able to come look at it until Saturday (this conversation happened on a Thursday).  We both knew that the particular lathe he was selling is very popular.  I told him that I didn't expect him to hold it just for one person to look at (me) and that if he had a buyer before Saturday I would have no problem.  I just asked that he contact me so I didn't waste an afternoon and 45 minutes of fuel getting there.  I had low hopes that the lathe would last two days but Bernie made my day.  He said something like "I'm a fair guy.  I take all offers in the order they come in and right now you're the third person to call about it.  One guy probably just wants to see how it goes together as he has one in parts."  I told him that he was being very kind and we set up a time to wheel and deal.  I called Bernie Saturday morning just to make sure he hadn't sold the lathe and he told me it was still available.  I went to his shop where he builds hot rods and custom motorcycles, marveled at the things he was building and then saw it.  A South Bend 9" Model A lathe.  It was complete, well cared for and ran smooth as glass.  I learned that it was his Uncle's lathe and that I was only the third owner.  The first outside of their family.  It definitely didn't come from a factory or a school because it doesn't have any of the "scars" associated with that sort of use and abuse.  It even had cast iron legs to sit on.  I told him it was a deal, handed him a wad of cash and scooted the thing inch by inch out to my truck.  He was kind enough to let me occupy some space in his lot while I took it apart and got it into the truck.  He also offered me a good price on a horizontal band saw as a, sort of, package deal.  I passed but wish I had taken him up on that offer.  I then disassembled, cleaned, oiled and reassembled a third lathe.  I had to acquire some accessories to make it more useable (a new four jaw chuck, some extra tool holders and such) but eventually got it into the basement and operational.  The Craftsman lathe is sitting on a shelf for now and the Stark lathe made it home and is not operational at this time.  I'll probably use the Stark as a second operation lathe.  Not sure what I'll do with the Craftsman.  Maybe I'll sell it, maybe I'll take it to work, maybe I'll put it in my garage shop.  Once that South Bend was operational it was put right to work.  The first actual parts I made were two extra set screws for the one tool hold I had (the tool post is one of those Aloris knock-offs) and never stopped.  I've made bushings, game pieces, tips for pullers and presses, mandrels, bolts, nuts...  I'm very, very happy to have a working lathe.

I also acquired an old Kennedy tool chest and Snap-On base cabinet for my little basement machine shop.  Oh, and my boss gave me a drill press.  I offered to buy it but he told me to just take it.  It's Chinese, cheap and wasn't being used.  An used Snap On top and bottom combo also followed me home and resides in my garage shop.  So my past year was largely spent gathering machines, tooling, tools and storage.  Almost all of it used.  I have a weakness for old tools as they're cheap to get (if not given away) and are usually made better than modern stuff.  I'm a happy person and am looking forward to the coming year.  It is going to be filled by the making of parts.  Wood and metal.  I'll also be shooting a lot of video.  I wish you the best in 2015.  Stay tuned.

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