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FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 5:58 pm
by Richard Hull
Tooling is a big issue for the fusor builder. The youngest here will most likely have little more that dad's drill and hand tools. Other, older, working guys might have a fairly decent cadre of tools on hand. Many may have a neighbor that has a lot of useful tools who might be enlisted in the fusor construction effort. There is always the high school shop class that might help out as well.

A good worker knows and recognizes a good tool when he wraps his paws around it. Name brand, U.S. made tools are always expensive and can last generations of hard use, being passed down grandfather, to father, to son. I have and use many of my grandfather's finest tools. He was a cabinet maker and used nothing but the best. He taught me a respect for tools, how to clean, oil, sharpen and maintain them. Alas, probably 1 in 50 reading this will have had my shepherding experience at the hands of a concerned grandfather.

The upshot is to buy quality if you can. The highest quality should be sought in non-powered hand tools that see common and constant use. (hammers, screw drivers, wrenchs, socket sets, squares, hand saws, etc. Money spent here will be well repaid later.

Power tools should also be of a good grade, at least. Makita is one of my favorites (Japan). These are of a first rank quality.

What follows is a tip for the relatively poor, very young person who is just barely making it. There is a vast range of Chi-Com, (mainland China), tool offerings in hundreds of stores across the land. These tools range from junk to tolerably well made items. None are suitable for the hard-working construction guy who can't have a tool crap out on him in the middle of a critical job, when in daily heavy use. However, for the occasional user, they are often quite sufficient and servicable until better tools can be acquired. They should be looked into as savings over a top brand US equivalent. Such savings can be over 80%!

Harbor freight is a great place to buy inexpensive tooling. It is 100% chi-com, of course, and you will not pass the tools down to your children, but for the price and particular service the average home owner might expect from them, they are great! I retain and use virtually 100% of all the freebie and 20% off coupons my wife cuts out for me. Harbor freight has had a great keyless chuck, variable speed, 3/8" hand drill for $19.95. I have taken 3 of their 20% off coupons on three occasions and now have three of them just laying around as backups and "rough use" drills against my $80.00 Makita. I currently have 10 of their 20% off coupons and about 30 free item coupons that expire over the next 4 months on hand! My normal routine is go in and grab a free item, then buy a $1.00 or $2.00 useful item or get a higher ticket item and use a 20% coupon to whack its price down. (note: one free item per customer per day with the purchase of any other item.)

With the above methodology, I have obtained, for free, about 20 of their really sweet multi-LED flashlights, over 15 of their free 25 foot tape measures, 6 of their free magnetic base parts bowls, 10 of their free 24 packs of AAA and AA dry cells, 4 or 5 of their free 6 different sized and type screwdriver sets, (in the trunks of my cars), 7 of their free fly and bug high voltage zappers and lastly, about 22 of their free 7 function LCD digital volt meters! I tend to go once every week since about 2013 for a freebie and some other goodie.

I own three lathes. One has a 6" 6 jaw chuck and an overbed swing of 10". I also have a great old K9 Southbend with a 6", 3 jaw chuck. In addition, I have a micro lathe used in my model railroad work. I would say 95% of my lathe work involves spinning and working something under 2" in diameter and under 6" long, often under 1" long! As such, I am always working right at the headstock/chuck with a small workpiece in a giant twirling 6" diameter chuck! I doubt if I have used any of the lathes' tailstocks in 8 years, save for boreing.

Harbor Freight has had a 3" overbed lathe with a 3 jaw chuck that can chuck up to a 1.5" diameter piece. It is well made and has a continuous, electronic variable speed motor. It comes with gears to allow threading. It is real nice and I have mulled over this $500.00+ lathe for the past 5 years, watching its price go from $490 to its current $569. About three months ago they had a super sale and for one day only, they offered a, first time ever, 25% off coupon!!!

I took this coupon and got my $143.00 savings. The little 15 inch bed lathe is in my lab now and I rarely turn on my big lathes anymore. I give this lathe a triple A rating if you are doing a ton of occasional small stuff, like me.

I find the same basic good stuff at Northern Tool and Equipment a bit over priced compared to Harbor Freight. They never give anything away for free, but do have sales and slaes flyers.

Richard Hull

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:45 am
by Dan Knapp
For larger Chinese made machine tools, I recommend ENCO. I have their 12" swing lathe. My only complaint is that the gearbox drive causes considerable vibration mounted on their sheet metal cabinet stand. Adding a segmented drive belt from Harbor Freight helped some, but didn't cure it. I've beefed mine up with stiffeners bolted inside the cabinets, and plan to eventually fill the stands with sandbags or concrete. I've bored ten inch conflats on it with no problem. I also have their square post mill-drill, and am very happy with it.
Another place for relatively inexpensive Chinese made tooling is Grizzly. I have their micro lathe which sells on sale for about $350. It has a two inch three jaw chuck that closes with two pins rather than a chuck key; the Harbor Freight 3" chuck is superior. I added a quick change tool post for micro lathes sold on Amazon. I use the small carbide indexible turning tools sold by Harbor freight. Harbor Freight also has a package of five small high speed steel cutters that on sale and with coupon is about four bucks; the parting tool alone in this package is worth more than that at usual tooling prices.
For really small work, I have a watchmakers lathe I found in a flea market. It has collets that go down to a quarter millimeter. There are lots of old watchmakers lathes around. It days past, virtually every jeweler had one, whether he used it or not. You can buy new Chinese made watchmakers lathes on eBay, but they're not cheap. Best bet is to keep your eyes open for one at a flea market and hope the vendor doesn't appreciate its value. I paid about $250 for mine.
Another very useful item for small work is a micro drill press. I got mine on sale on Amazon for $89. I drill holes down to a quarter millimeter on it using carbide micro bits from Harbor Freight.
I too collect the coupons and use lots of their multimeters in my lab. If you can convince your wife to go with you on regular trips to Harbor Freight, you can get two freebies per visit.

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Thu Jun 02, 2016 5:20 pm
by Richard Hull
I have used ENCO and Grizzly for my Big stuff as well. My largest Lathe and my power hacksaw came from ENCO.

This past weekend I was out of town and had my wife go to Harbor Freight and take advantage of their super memorial day sale. She picked up two pieces of free stuff for me on Saturday and Sunday.

Looks like our wives are willing to work with us on occasion in grabbing the free stuff.

Richard Hull

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:34 am
by Bob Reite
I picked up a used Enco milling machine off of CraigsList and added a DRO to it. Very handy for drilling holes in precisely the right places, as well as doing the typical milling machine jobs.

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Sat Jun 11, 2016 2:50 am
by Jerry Biehler
Always buy brand name tools, the company I started working for has a whole mess of chinese crap and the stuff is garbage. The stuff at home depot and lowes is good and carries warranties. Of course there are exceptions to that. Ryobi is, for the most part, crap. This especially applies to cutting tools like drills, taps, milling cutters.

Best hand power tools, Bosch, Milwaukee, Panasonic (Cordless, best cordless made). Hitachi also makes high end power tools though they can be a bit rare.

Bigger machines, mills, lathes, etc. Buy the biggest machine you can fit/move. You will rarely wish "gee, I wish I had a smaller lathe). I think I have four lathes now, an rare Artisan 12x24 from the turn of the century, a South Bend 9A, a Hercus CNC, and a Monarch 10EE. My 10EE currently has a 5kw brushless servo for the spindle, thats almost 7hp constant and up to 20hp for a short period. I can move chips! And this is actually a pretty small lathe, 12x20. Mine was built in 1942 but you can still buy one new today, though the new price is over $100k the last time I heard. They are regarded as one of the finest tool room lathes ever made. I have pretty much everything for it, 6" 6 jaw, 8" 3 and 4 jaw, 5c collet closer, steadies, taper attachment, DRO scales on all three axes.

The enco mills are not bad, at least the full size mills. Anything smaller and it's a gamble. Don't buy one of the round column mills, they are terrible. You want mass in your machine, thats what gives you a fine finish with little chatter. My mill at home is a Supermax YCM-16VS that came out of the Tektronix model shop. They had it converted to CNC and I have totally gone though it, replaced all the old DC servos with Mitsubishi brushless servos including the spindle.

Harbor Freight does carry a decent selection of american made products, you just really have to look for them. I avoid almost everything else they have like the plague. They do make decent impact sockets and the trailer jack stands are good enough.

If you are looking for cheap tools keep an eye out on craigslist and check out pawn shops, I have gotten a lot of very good deals and cash talks. Even Goodwill, most stores have an isle where the tools end up and often there are assortments of brand name screwdrivers and wrenches for cheap, once I found a near full set of 6 and 12 point craftsman sockets for a steal.

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Sat Jun 11, 2016 3:03 am
by Dan Knapp
Before one goes too far trashing Chinese made tools, one should remember that many of the brand name tools (e.g. much of the Craftsman line) are now made in China. Richard mentioned that you would not likely be handing down Harbor Freight tools to your heirs, but for occasional use, much of what they sell works fine. One should avoid their cheap (and freebie) screwdrivers, unless you need bendable pry bars. We would all like to buy top of the line tools, but simply cannot afford to. Buying used tools (especially machine tools) can be risky for the non expert. A new Chinese lathe can be a better buy than an abused American brand name lathe. I don't think one can make a valid blanket statement here.

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Sat Jun 11, 2016 5:40 pm
by Jerry Biehler
Oh, china can make good things, it's just that stuff rarely makes it across the ocean at a cheap price and especially to harbor freight. China builds to a price point. If you want it cheap, they will make it cheap, if you want to pay to have it made well, it will be. At least for a while unless you have someone stationed over there for QC, if you dont the quality will go to hell in short order.

From a lot of the machine tools I have seen at HF it would be hard to find a used american made machine that was much worse. The fit an finish of the consumer grade chinese machine tools is just awful. There are also model engineering groups in many areas and guys on forums like Home Shop Machinist that can be bribed into looking at a machine with you.

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Mon Jun 13, 2016 4:23 pm
by Richard Hull
I have used my Southbend k-9 only once in the last two months. I used it with cutoff tool to chop off, truly square, (5) 2 inch long sections of 3" PVC pipe, but the little Harbor frieght 3" has seen use many times since for threading and small work. Seems fine to me. Like I say, 90% of my work is right at the chuck and under 1.5 inches in diameter. What I have come to hate about the 2 big lathes is the hassle involved in changing linear surface speeds to match the worked material.

With the little ChiCom lathe it is infinitely variable via a knob making multiple materials and tool types a snap to work with rather than farting with belts and gearing for a single small work piece on the larger machines. Everything I do is one off and do not manufacture in repetition multiple pieces.

Richard Hull

Re: FAQ - Tools for construction

Posted: Tue Jun 14, 2016 7:20 am
by Rex Allers
Re: The lathe comments...

I bought my first lathe around 2005. I think it's Taiwanese from the early 1990's and seems pretty accurately and well made. I think it's 13" swing over the carriage. The previous owner put a nice 2-axis DRO on it and that's a really nice feature.

When I got it I went through it all and cleaned, lubed and adjusted everything. After a couple quick tests, I found a local 3-phase motor for it and bought a small VFD controller. I made a new control panel so now I have a speed knob with start, stop buttons, a fwd/rev switch and a jog-mode switch. Now the belts and gears just give me speed and torque ranges. I have it in a mid belt setting almost all the time.

I agree, the old speed ranges was a pain and the 3-phase VFD conversion was well worth the effort. On the control panel of the lathe I have the speed knob marked in % and have a table that shows the max RPM for each of the belt or gear selection options.

I also made my own micro-controller box that monitors the carriage DRO signal and can be set to stop the VFD when the carriage hits a set position in either the increasing or decreasing direction. I usually use it for my own weird threading method.

I zero the crossfeed DRO at the diameter of what I am going to thread. I set a stop position on the micro-thingie where I want the thread to end. I lock in the thread feed with the carriage just before the start of what I am going to thread. As usual, I use the compound feed for the thread cut depth. I hit start and it cuts to the stop position that I set on the micro. When it stops I back out the crossfeed, put it in reverse and run backwards to a start point before the thread. I then use the DRO to put the crossfeed at zero again and increase the compound for the next cut.

My odd threading method is not as fast as someone who knows how to do it the old way, but none of that confusing unlocking the thread feed and matching the threading dial.

So, I'd recommend shopping for cheap parts and converting your bigger lathe with a 3-phase motor and VFD. A 2-axis DRO is a really nice thing too if you don't already have it.