Monday, May 13, 2013

What are friends for?

The planets finally aligned for a friend of mine recently. While scanning Craigslist for interesting items I found something that caught my interest. The price was a little steep but it looked like a nice specimen. The listing didn't have a phone number so I sent the seller an email inquiring about the item. I always include my phone number in the hope that the seller will respond likewise and include theirs. To my surprise the seller called me. We spoke for a while on the phone about the machine I had written about. After talking for a while he mentioned some other equipment he wanted to sell. I quizzed him on the other machines and struck pay dirt. Well almost pay dirt. A friend of mine has been looking for a 2 axis CNC Prototrak milling machine. This guys wanted to sell one. As soon as I got off the phone I called Marty and gave him Kent's contact information. This was the best situation you could ask for. It was not actually on the market yet so there was not a line of competitors going around the corner. I threw the whole thing over the fence to Marty and let him run the touchdown for the score.

 A couple of days later I get a call,  "So what are you doing this weekend? Want to help me move a milling machine?" Heck yes I do was my instant reply. Tell me where and when. Marty made the deal and now we are on the hook to get this large milling machine out of a little rats nest of a shop No offense to Kent but his busy shop is loaded with tools, equipment and materials and not much air space. In fact it took a week of prep work on his end just so we could access the machine that Marty bought. Sounds like an adventure to me. Mentally I started my list of tools and equipment that I would bring to the party.

The day started with an excited friend pulling a trailer arriving. I had my pile of gear ready to go but Marty convinced me a lot of it wasn't needed. A little voice in my head was telling me to just go ahead and load it anyway. But the lazy guy won out. At least the adjustable head prybar made it on the truck.

As we pulled up to Kents shop my riggers eye was surveying the slanted driveway and low garage door opening. Kent's shop is located in his one and a half car garage and extends into the basement and crawlspace of the three story house. I hopped out of the truck to guide Marty into the garage and noted a drainage swale and asphalt rim right at the entrance to the garage.

Ok I don't know about you but what kind of architect designs a driveway sloping into the garage without proper provision for runoff? This seems like house design 101 to me. Water has to go somewhere and its usually down hill. The pipsqueak swale the architect specified apparently is easily overwhelmed during a good rain. Kent did what he had to do to defend his shop from flooding by adding the asphalt rim to the undersize swale to protect his garage from flooding. All this is just complaining on my part because we had to deal with the drainage swale and rim while trying to move a 3200 lb machine.

You know the job is starting out on the wrong foot when the owner tells you, "Oh by the way we need to move this lathe out of the way first" On top of that we cant disconnect the power from it either. Ok, lets move the lathe first.

I didn't get as many pictures as I normally would like. I gave the camera to one of Kent's buddies to shoot progress pictures while we worked. I guess he is from the film camera era where you only get 24 shots per roll. He came up a little light on quantity but I'm glad he did what he did.
Moving the Tuda lathe wasn't too bad. They already had it most of the way up when we got there. All we had to do is lift it a little higher and get the Hilman rollers Kent had under the machine. We barred it as far out of the way as the electrical would let us to give us room to work on the mill.
 The general idea was to raise the machine enough to get a pallet jack under the mill. We used a bar and my wood wedges to slowly elevate the machine. I'm doing the bar work and Marty is slipping the wedges under the machine. The wood wedges are great because they are infinitely adjustable unlike a pile of wood scraps. The angle of the wedges is low enough that there is no slippage under load. These are just doug fir four by fours cut at an angle. Hardwood might be better but I like to see the machine bite into the wood a little.
Once we had the machine raised enough for the pallet jack we sucked about ten years worth of chips and cat litter out from under the machine. Once the mill is on the pallet jack you can move it around quite easily and safely. This particular mill is quite heavy. Its a 10 x 50 with box ways and a 40 taper spindle. Bridgeports are like drill presses compared to this machine. It really is a two person show to move one of these.
It took a couple of tries with the pallet jack to get the right center of gravity. This oversize mill is heavier on the front side because of the massive knee casting. Once we found the spot where the machine was stable one person could push it around easily. We danced around the garage for a while trying to get the machine lined up with the trailer. There was a lot of backing and filling to orient it for the tug into the drop bed trailer.
My empire for a come along right about now. I really wanted to just gently winch the machine into the trailer with a controlled simple setup. When Marty picked me up in the morning I had everything we would need all laid out. When we started talking he had some of the rigging equipment already and had spoken to the seller, Kent who had a bunch of stuff also. Red warning beacons should have been going off in my head.

OK, here is my wisdom for all eternity. Take everything you will possibly need to do the job with you when you leave. Pretend your going to the moon and there will be nothing available to use except moon dust. Marty convinced me to break my rule and we suffered because of it. Kent didn't have a come along of any kind. What he did have was a Harbor Fright 12VDC cheapco winch. The winch was attached to a section of thin wall pipe with U bolts. To operate the winch we had to attach a battery charger to the leads for the 12V supply. Definitely a jury rig.
Well what are you supposed to do? You cant stand around and whine about it. Just start and get cracking. We strapped the winch to the front of the trailer with some motorcycle straps to reinforce the weeny winch assembly. There was a up slope going into the trailer because of the driveway. We managed to span the swale after a dozen tries backing the trailer into the garage. Marty's truck is a diesel so that operation probably took a few years off my lifespan.
To my surprise the cheapco winch actually pulled the machine up into the trailer. It was a bit herky jerky with the battery charger as the power supply but not bad compared to my expectations.
So I know Marty is feeling better about now. The machine is safely in the trailer and fully under control. We took it off Kent's pallet jack. Here is where it would have been great to leave it on the pallet jack and block and strap it down. It would have saved us two machine lifts if we would have brought my pallet jack. This is where the adjustable head pry bar earned its price tag. With all the trailer structure around you couldn't use any kind of a long bar. It really saved the day.
Thanks to the machinery gods the road trip was very un-eventful. Just the way you want it when your hauling iron like this at sixty miles per hour. Now for the exhausting part.
Marty's garage is west facing so it gets the full brunt of the afternoon sun. The weather was nice and warm in the eighties for this next part.We must have lost a few pounds of water weight unloading the mill.
Everything was a tight fit at this end of the job. I think Marty had an inch or two to back and fill between the telephone pole and the garage. He looked tired when I asked him to move the trailer over a few inches to the left in this picture.
Finally back on the ground. All we need to do now is get my wedges out from under the machine. Once we got it down you should have seen the look on Marty's face when I said, uh-ohh. The head was looking mighty close to the garage door.
I call that close but no cigar for Murphy. It clears by a whole inch and a half. Good thing this is not a drawbar machine.
You cant tell from this picture but this is one happy guy. All the hard work is worth it when you get to this point. It was almost as good as getting a new machine myself. Well not quite that good. That's what friends are for, to share some fun and enjoy a job well done.

I learned my lesson,

I hereby promise to take every bar, chain, strap, jack, wedge and scrap of lumber necessary to complete the job from this day forward.

Thanks for looking.


  1. Hi Tom,

    This comment is not related to this post, per se, but in response to your latest youtube video appeal for questions you may be able to address.

    Before I ask though, I want to say your name has become some sort of a joke around the house- in a good way! One example: whenever we are free to watch a movie in the evening, (which is rare) my fiance asks the "So, what do you want to watch..?" question. To which I reply, "Tom Lipton!" You can finish the story from there.

    Now to my question: Knurling. Dammit. Not that hard, but kind of like foundry work, you never quite know what you're gonna get in the end. In particular, I'm about to put a medium straight knurl on the head of a 360 brass adjustment screw. There's actually a guy on youtube who has some good info for knurling, as opposed to many of the jokers out there, but I'd like your opinion and technique recommendations. I have an knurlcraft scissor knurl and 21 tpi straight knurls. The diameter of the piece is 0.875 and the head height (or width on the lathe) is 0.300. I've been told not to lube the knurls for brass, but that makes me wary. Also, the classic chipping/tearing in this material is a concern.

    Ok, thanks for everything. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Hi J,

    Lots of people have trouble with knurling. In the short term try a couple of things. Increase your speed and feed rate. Speed for that diameter on brass might go 300 rpm with .012/rev feed. I agree with the no lube on brass. Use an air blow instead. If I read you correctly the width of the krurls are .300. This is fairly wide and will take some pressure. I generally in feed off the part so I don't have to whale on the crossfeed so hard. Also when I buy knurls I get the crowned type for this reason. I don't have a knurling tool for my new lathe yet but I have a trick up my sleeve. Stay tuned.



  3. You get into the coolest projects. Wish I was closer so I could tag along (and help of course!)

  4. You guys only get to see the "public" projects. Lots more stuff to come in the next couple of months.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Tom Lipton

  5. Hi Tom,
    I have really enjoyed reading your blog over the last couple of weeks, please keep it up.
    I couldn’t help but notice the trailer in this post. I have wanted to make one exactly like it.
    Is there any way I could get details on it?

  6. Hi Eamonn,

    The trailer is called a drop deck equipment trailer. Take a look at what JLG has to offer. There is a local rental place that charges $65 for 24 hours. I wanted to build one of these myself but thought better of it for how easy it is to rent. If you factor in registration and storage it didn't make much sense to build one for me. Now if I was moving machines every week (I wish) then I would have one of my own.

    Try this link.