March 27, 2012

Clausing drill press back together (~5 years later!)

A decent drill press is a great thing to have in your shop. It might even be the one stationary machine I would choose to get first. Over the last 10 years, I've had two Clausing drill presses which I attempted to fix up and swap parts enough to realize my ideal drill press. I don't think I ended up with that, but at least I have a working machine now.

I like Clausing machines. When I was at the media lab, there was a solid and easy to use ~13" lathe, which I've seen other versions of around Cambridge. Chances are good you have seen one of their iconic 16VT variable speed drill presses, with the two expanding wall pulleys and single wide belt. I always liked these when using them in shops around MIT and elsewhere, so I bought an old one off ebay. It arrived in terrible shape. The runout was awful and the bearings were shot.

I was younger and more ambitious then, so I took the whole thing apart and replaced the spindle and upper pulley bearings, the belt, and tried (unsuccessfully) to straighten the MT2 spindle. When put back together, it ran much more smoothly, but still had a ton of runout, which made it unsuitable for anything but non-precision woodworking. A new spindle was available from the current parent company of the Clausing brand, but it cost around $800. One problem with using industrial machines I guess is that repair parts are priced in line with the original machine prices, rather than the cheapo price you may have picked the machine up for.

Looking around the Want Ads (a classified magazine for the Boston area), I found a fixed pulley version of my machine at a local manufactory in Medford. This machine was in good shape, so I took it home. I liked the variable speed transmission, but wanted to put it on the better machine. The head casting and all other important elements were the same between the two machines, so I was able to switch the variable speed system over to the good machine and put the fixed speed setup on the worn machine. I only got to putting the fixed pulley, worn machine back together before Violet was born, so that is as far as that project went.

I had been using the worn machine these last 5 years, but last summer I cleaned a lot of stuff out of the basement in preparation for having some HVAC work done down there, and I sold off the worn press to a guy who understood its limitations but was going to use it for non-demanding applications.

So anyway, last weekend I had a few hours to work on a project. I intended to work on cabinets for the bathroom, but I wanted to use the dust collector if I was going to be cutting a significant amount of wood. Unfortunately a few years ago a pipe broke in the basement and showered the shop with perhaps 400 liters of water. Gah! I made a homeowners insurance claim, but at the time I didn't realize the water had gotten in the bearings of the dust collector, which is now unusable. Last weekend I wanted to determine if it could be fixed, and if not to be able to switch it out for a new one.

I began taking apart the dust collector, only to find that I needed some extension bars to pull the impeller off the motor shaft. I had appropriate bar stock for this, but quickly found that I lacked a drill press to make decent holes. Of course I could have done it with a hand drill, but I decided to undertake making the press functional. Oh, it also had a bad switch in it, so I spent some time fiddling with that, and putting the switch back in the casting in a way that kept the wires out of the quill, which went up and down right behind the switch. After a minimal amount of cursing, spraying of lube, etc., the thing was working and configured to drill something.

Its quite squeaky in the belt area. I'm hoping its just the new belt, and that once it wears in it will be quieter. Right now I'm harboring a little regret that I didn't just fit the fully working fixed pulley machine with a 3 phase motor + VFD instead of starting this whole cockamamie scheme. Also, the big cast iron table is nice, but you can't drill all the way through something sitting right on the table obviously, and it also doesn't tilt like many smaller drill press tables.

In summary, while I still have not arrived in drill press nirvana, I've got something that will drill decent holes. Probably I'll put a task light on it and make some kind of wood table cover to allow through drilling of holes.

Becky asked me if I made any progress on the cabinets. Oh right, the cabinets. Well, um, you see I had to fix the drill press in order to fix the dust collector, in order to cut some wood to make the cabinets...

In short, its hard to actually get anything done!

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