You wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife? – IB/MM
Daedlab Commandment #3: Don’t be a jackass. Make the slaves do it for you. Just make sure you and they both remember who number two works for.
If you can already do it, don’t especially love to do it, and need to do a lot of it… then let a machine (or downtrodden serf) do it for you. There’s no prize for martyrdom here. There is (as far as I know) no heaven for By-Hand Heros.
If machines can do the execution for you, they should. It puts your focus and energy back where it oughtta be. Design.
When I started making tools, I made them at first entirely by hand. Hacksaws, file, etc. It stayed that way for at least 2-3 years, and when I felt like I’d developed my understanding and skills with the process and materials sufficiently, I finally added some machinery. First a lathe, then a mill, and much later a surface grinder. These were really good additions, and the end results were better for them.
The lathe, in particular, was a pretty -um – well-worn machine. A 1940s era Logan originally sold by Montgomery Ward, it had seen a number of owners, few of whom likely really knew the best practices to keep it in top flight condition, so it was riddled with slop, vibration, and inaccuracy. It has always been, in short, something of a challenge to do really quality work on.
But there’s a truism among machinists (and woodworkers) that a good craftsman with crappy tools still does far better work than a mediocre craftsman with great tools. So I resigned to stick with the Logan until I no longer needed to upgrade. Then I’d let myself reconsider.
Machining in less-than-ideal conditions teaches you a lot. It forces you to really understand the machining process, to really ‘interact’ with the materials, and to develop work practices that can compensate for and mitigate limitations of the tools. Really understanding, at a gut level, the relationship of cutter to work, feed and speed, when to rough and when to finish, ‘strain’ turning and the finger follow rest for sloppy machines, and more.
But the truth is that, for the work that I do I’ve gotten quite competent at machining. I can easily hold accuracy well under half a thou for the short length screws I turn, even on a machine with spindle runout far greater than that.
So this spring, after passing my self-imposed ‘stage II’ machining exam, I started shopping for a new lathe.
In late June I found it. About 700 miles away, within a stone’s throw of my high school oddly enough.
However, it wasn’t nearly as simple as just ‘bring in a new machine’. Not in the Lab.
In the end, it led to finally adding a robust 3-phase distribution system, removing a lot of extraneous tools and storage, repurposing the basement of the shop to a dedicated woodworking machine area, and a simply astonishing amount of grease and grime on my clothes.
After all that, the new shop arrangements are going to make my life much much easier. The handtool/office portion of the shop remains the same – I’m not giving up anything about that space.
The machining area, though, is significantly different. The Logan has been repurposed to do work on wood, and has a new location. Also, in addition to the Harrison, I found myself unable to resist adopting another small lathe, a Lin Huan 90s-era turret lathe.
And finally, with the addition of proper 3-phase, I finally got around to cleaning up (and letting back out of the driveway) my WWI era Brown and Sharpe 10N OD/Tool & Cutter Grinder.
Almost all of the woodworking machines are now in their new home beneath my feet. The one space consideration to woodworking by electron is my festool MFT and the green power tools, which remain upstairs.
So was it worth it? All I can say is that while the Logan lathe in particular has paid for itself a hundred times over, the new Harrison is an absolute revelation in comparison. They really aren’t even in the same category. Night and day doesn’t even begin to cover the difference in precision and capability.
What does all this mean for Daed Toolworks? Hell, I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out… and I also find myself really pondering a more serious milling machine…
more to come.