31 Dec 2018

First off, happy New Year!

So having just reached a big age milestone, a thought bouncing around is, “what am I going to do with my time if/when I retire?” The telescope is useful in that respect because it’ll be something to do when I don’t have to worry about getting up early for work. There’s also a growing itch to start planning for a better-equipped shop where I can make whatever strikes my mood, retired or not. The lead contender right now is getting a mill of some sort. With a mill and lathe, just about anything can be fabricated. The lathe has been indispensable, but there are many things that only a mill can do, and without it, quality suffers. Take drilling several accurately-placed holes…

One of the most annoying things that’s been a bother for, oh, forever, is the drill press—the bit “walks”. One of the worst examples happens when drilling holes through square tubing. Mark one side accurately, drill that hole, and then, “since it’s accurately located, I’ll just continue drilling through the opposite side”, instead of flipping it over, measuring a second time, and drilling that hole separate. For whatever reason, the drill always emerges off-center, enough that on suspension brackets on the car, the part had to be tossed out. I know what you’re going to say: center-punch the hole (I do), use a center drill (I do), don’t bear down on it (I don’t), and check that the table is square to the arbor (it is). It may be radial play in the drill press arbor, or maybe all drill presses do this to some degree. It does it even with single holes as well, I can watch it walk slightly as it initially starts to bite. It’s okay for ordinary drill work, but not for anything requiring precision.

In addition to accurately locating holes, a mill is perfect for cutting accurate slots (instead of drilling holes and using the jigsaw to connect them, which is hard or impossible in tubing), being able to face blocks of metal and know it’s flat, and on and on. And finally, closely related to accurately locating holes is having a Digital Read Out (DRO); once you use a lathe or mill with one, you won’t want to go back. DROs also have built-in smarts for things like tool diameter offset, locating holes spaced evenly in a line, or X number of holes on a diameter. Sure, placing holes manually has been done forever, but the DRO is such an enormous help, it’s also on the list.

This brings up the old problem: where does it go? My “shop” is confined to one half of a two-car garage—with both cars in the garage, which makes working on anything far more challenging. Backing out the cars only helps temporarily since the large equipment stays put. Because of this, adding anything to the shop is a struggle, and especially a mill since a 30″ bed typically needs about 72″ total lateral space due to it moving both left and right. Because of that, its envelope is best suited to a corner, if I had one. Messing about on the computer with paper dolls produced these floor plans. The second one fits better, but counts on the mill bed to project under the band saw table; hopefully that’s not wishful thinking. Regardless, it all starts with a big cleanup, as there’s a lot of stuff taking up space but probably isn’t worth keeping around. It also means giving up half my storage space, but it isn’t that bad since 3/4 of it has sat unmoved for years.

The proximity of the band saw to the grinding center works since the grinding center is lower than the band saw table. As for what mill I’ll end up with, who knows. It all depends what pops up, and while everyone always says to get a used Bridgeport, they’re so old, tired, and huge, that getting one up and running could be a long and expensive endeavor, one I’m not really wanting to get into now. The reality is that it’ll probably be a smaller bench unit, but we’ll see.