Coulter's Smithing Home

We wanted to select and buy all new tools for this. Definately a fun(d) activity. Next we had to move in some hard to lift things and set them up. Some had to be put together in place, like the benches. We have almost exclusively Chinese tools for the major stuff. We find them to be pretty good, and especially for the price. We did compare with say, used American stuff, and there's no comparison price or quality wise. For example, that lathe in a used American equivalent, would have cost more than twice as much, and not been new. We couldn't even find new American stuff without more "features" than we wanted or could afford. Now, while our luck has been pretty good on the bigger stuff, it hasn't been as good on the hand-tools and smaller power tools. You pretty much get what you pay for, it seems. We sort of wish we'd discovered Grizzly before we got most of this at Harbor freight. We'd have paid a bit more, but gotten slightly more for the money, less grief with backorders, and better support. Now, as to the tool bits, that's another story. We tend to try to get the very best at any (reasonable) price, which is often American made.

Nice drill press This Clarke drill press was bought at Tractor Supply. This is a good line of import stuff. There is zero play in the quill, and there are plenty of speeds. The cross slide vise is from Harbor. It wasn't all that good until we bought some wavy washers from McMaster and took up the end slack. It still doesn't have really straight ways, or even tension over travel, but it is a lot better than a vise you can't move. Once aligned, it makes it easy to drill holes in a line parallel or normal to the jaw edges. The bins on the wall are for drill press related stuff, like the "everyday" drill bits, a pin vise for little drills, jigs, and holdowns. The "precision" drill bits are kept elsewhere to keep them from being grabbed up and worn out on "unworthy" work. Should have cleaned up before taking the picture, but this is a working shop, after all. When it matters to the work, we get it sano, but otherwise let it accumulate until it gets in the way. In the name of cheapness and fun, we did our own anodizing and dyeing on that window trim. This way we have samples a customer can point to for color choices and finishes. We are unlikely to misplace the window trim, a big advantage. This drill press was on sale for $129 when it was bought. The fact that I could get the one I touched in the store to check quill play was a moderately big deal.
Milling machine This is the milling machine we got from Harbor freight for a little under a dollar a pound. Well worth it. With the additions shown it has become a very useful tool. The traverse and wire welder mount together make it possible to lay down very nice welds quickly, and then make them flat with the mill with no new setup required. This is nice for welding a tool steel edge onto a plain steel knive body, for example. The vice pictured is about the minimum you would want. The one that came with it and all of the drill press vices we tried just didn't cut it. You really need rigidity, and you don't want this 2 hp thing picking up a workpiece and flinging it at you! Seems to have plenty of power. One moan we have is that some of the R8 collets we have don't have enough thread length for the bolt provided. We have that lathe, so just made a spacer, but gee, that's what standards are supposed to be for. We also got a circular indexing table from Harbor, this one made in India, and it seems good. Used it so far to mill a circular gasket slot into a piece of steel so we could use mason jars as vacuum bell–jars.

The magnets on the bed were an attempt to do this with a magnetic chuck, more or less. Turned out to be a bad idea. While magnets are very nice around a wood shop, they are a mixed blessing in a metal shop. Had some real fun de–gaussing the table after that. We do use magnets to hold things like chuck keys on the machines. But getting your tools magnetized is not a good thing. They then hold chips which find their way into your skin, and can be pretty hard to remove. It's not like a wood splinter that will fester up and squeeze out like a pimple after a day or so, these seem to just screw themselves in farther. The stand holds bits, jigs and so forth right there at the machine. The orange air hose in the picture has regulated dry air with cutting oil in it rather than air–tool lube. It serves both the mill and the drill press. This cost about $800, and we took it home ourselves on a flatbed trailer. Thanks Paul!

Mini lathe We got this partly in frustration while waiting for the larger one, but it has been a good learning tool, and has found good uses. Once the plastic gears broke (Doug ran the carriage into the stop) it can't be used for threading any more, but has uses nontheless. Here it has a piece of wood in it destined to become a knife stock. Doug built a little motor drive for the remaining gears, so there is a traverse. This is for something entirely different. As this lathe can spin fast, and the traverse can be very slow, it can make diffraction gratings on round stock. Pretty cool. I wish every machine in the shop had this variable speed feature. One other quality control issue with this is the switch. It eats things like chips or sawdust, and stops working. It is a real pain to take apart and fix. We will replace it with something better. And oh yeah, after working on it for about a year, Harbor cannot get replacement gears. Nor can we find them ourselves. The clamp–on lamp on the left is a 150 watt spot, for drying finishes quickly. This is a good place to apply them and sand them back down. For drying, we turn the lathe slowly so the heat is even and there is a little wind on the workpiece. We made the center that's holding the wood on the other lathe. See that screwdriver on the lathe pan? If you see these at the hardware store, get them. This is an exception to the cheap Chinese handtool rule, these are really very good, and the color coding is useful. Real chrome vanadium steel these, and the handles are comfortable.
Big Lathe stepup transformer Here's the mother of all shop tools, our big lathe. In case you were wondering how one runs a 220v tool from a 120v solar power inverter, this transformer is the answer. It is wired so that it can be switched off when not needed, as it hums and draws a little current just to be connected to the mains. The halogen lamp over the lathe bed is wired across the second phase this transformer creates, so as to remind us not to leave it on when it's not being used. We also have a 4 jaw chuck and straight faceplate for this, and some special jigs we've made for it. There is a big enough hole through the quill to pass a rifle barrel for chambering and threading. Since those are accuracy operations, it is nice to be able to do them right up at the chuck, not floating out over the bed somewhere, even if a steady rest is used. At the moment, the lathe is set up to drill an accurately centered hole in a turned dowel, which will become a coil form for a galvanometer I am making for the fun of it. The lathe with appropriate jigs is also used for grinding knife and planer blades, and puts a very nice hollow ground edge on these. A main feature of this thing is simply its bigness. Most things will go on there to be machined with no sweat. the 2 hp it has seems to be enough at least for everything we've tried, and we've tried some pretty rapid stock removal at times. As far as bits go, we're not as happy with the Chinese stuff, even carbide, as the American stuff, so far. We also make our own for special purposes, but it's kind of a trick to make your own cemented we are stuck with HSS for that. This is bolted to both floor and wall, and the floor along this wall has an extra support rail and set of pilings about 2 feet in from the edge to support this heavy stuff. We may put the transformer and our big air compressor on another inverter set to seach mode to automate all that. While the Trace SW 4024 laughs at 2 hp loads, running a couple and then starting a big compressor does blink the lights a bit. Of course, that could be the batteries dragging down under the huge peak load at 24v.
metalsaw This is your basic metal cutting bandsaw. This one is a Clarke, also from Tractor Supply. I forget how much it cost exactly, but it didn't disturb the lunch budget – something under $200. The clamp–in table is a nice addition, as is the drywall mud pan to catch most of the filings. Doug also built a jig for this that lets us slit things like knife stocks long–ways, wood or metal. Does such a nice job of that you need a magnifier to see the line once the pieces are back together. In the background is the steel rack, made from pieces of mailing tube that McMaster packs long things in. There's quite a few bucks in that rack, as a lot of it is not just plain steel. For awhile there, Home Depot was selling these incredibly hard, insanely fine grained wood dowels for really cheap. So we picked up a few of those too. The galvanized stock is "interesting". That was bought at Home Depot as "fence tensioning rod" for about 1/5th the price of the same steel ungalvanized elsewhere in the store, sold as "steel". It pays to pay attention. I think we paid about $1.59 for 6 foot pieces of this stuff, 1/8" by 1/2". The alloy seems to be about 1040, so it is useful for a lot of things. OK, one has to strip off the zinc before welding, but that's no big deal. One thing we tried with this stuff that was at least a partial success, was plating chromium on it and case hardening it for knife blades. Worked better than expected, but the jury is still out. We have a couple in people's hands for long term testing. We get a very hard outer with a tough inner core this way. The chrome seems to melt into the steel during heat treatment. Anyway, a good tip is to buy your steel as something else, not as "steel". Almost always it will be cheaper. Conduit and some other things come to mind on this one too. We used conduit with some internal bracing to make our lightning rods here. We made the bracing out of ground rods, which also were cheaper bought as such than the equivalent steel would have been.

Although this bandsaw met all expectations, it is so doggone useful around here that it is one of the things we kind of wish we'd spent more money on, you know, to get a fancier and larger one. It's just great to put something in there, start it and walk away while it does all the work. I grew up in a household where this would be hacksaw territory, which is something like purgatory once you've used one of these. The yellow air hose in the background is dry air for blowing off chips. We have a color code for things like this.

little spindles Seeing double? We happened to scrounge a couple of these cheap Delta bench drill presses. They are no better than you'd expect, but are handy. We mostly use them to either chuck a tiny drill the other one won't eat, or for wire wheel and other wheel sorts of prep and finishing. The Clarke tool chest they are sitting on is full of drills, holesaws, taps, dies, clamps, and other things used at this end of the shop. We are getting towards the "messy" end of the shop here. The layout segregates the things that throw lots of chips, sawdust, abrasive, and so on from those things that are allergic to same.

Note: The "scotchbrite" wheel on the drill press on the right is just the thing for putting on a fine satin–brushed looking finish, fast. It was gotten at Caswell Plating. McMaster has a line that looks similar, but we've not tried them yet. We made a mandrel for it on the big lathe, using a big bolt, turning it down to where it would fit in the chuck of the little Delta.

The stock rack in the back is where we keep the "not plain steel" stuff. Aluminum, brass, tool steel, diamond covered steel flats, things like that.

The multi–colored drill bits between the presses are our precision set of cobalt bits. These are very nice, and we keep the set complete with replacements from McMaster. Got them originally on sale at Northern Hydraulics. The cobalt ones, besides being pretty, are really better, make cleaner holes closer to the correct size, and so forth. The TiAlN ones we get from McMaster to replace these are even better, though.

buffers These are some buffing machines, probably the most dangerous tools in the shop if one doesn't pay attention. The green machine is from Caswell, and it really rocks. We use two sisal wheels on the left with a softer wheel between, and the grey compound for rough finishing. Things happen fast on this wheel, both in the finishing sense, and related to the dents in the floor and wall near it. In the foreground is a machine I made with a 1/2 hp motor, for knife work. It doesn't need that much power. The interesting innovation there is the cowhide glued to the outsides of the wheel. This is good for putting on that final shine and edge. We had needed cowhide for a color case hardening recipe, and the only available source at the time was an entire hide at the fabric store. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them most of it would be burned. It finds a lot of other uses around here, once you've paid $100 for an entire cowhide, the only size they sold. It makes a dandy slip in for a bench vise to avoid scratching things, for example. Used another piece as a sort of spring to make the tracking adjustment on the mill traverse.

Both buffers are on the "cheaper" stand from Harbor, at about $20. It's a better stand than the more expensive one they sell. Go figure. The Caswell buffer is also screwed to the floor, and needs to be. One might find oneself really leaning on this tool to get a result quickly.

sanders and grinders As you can see, this is the messy end of the shop, where grit and dust abound. This is kept away from the precision tools and the electroplating stuff upstairs. Visible in the lower left is a fan that is over a hole in the floor. This is pushing warm dry air into the dirt floor crawlspace. The belt sander is another Harbor special. This is one of the other tools we sort of wish we'd done better on. Not that it isn't useful, it is. But a better one would be more useful. This one is hard to adjust the tracking on; it uses aluminum nuts galling on steel screws (at least they don't slip). We get belts for it at WoodWorker's Supply, which seems to have the best sandpaper for the money. The grinder/buffer is also from Harbor, and is very good. Nice to have a pristine wheel at both ends for that fussy stuff. We use the orange one for the bulk of work. We made a guide to catch the stuff into another drywall mud pan that is usually filled with water. The age-old Delta 3 wheel saw just keeps plugging along, with guides made by us. We change blades so often we don't put the cover back on. Just visible in the picture is the corner of our table saw/router. Nothing special here. Got this cheap, used. We put a trash bag under it, held with magnets to catch at least some of the chips, and did some "product improvement" on the fence to make it a good workhorse. This is actually the only tool here that will sometimes trip a breaker. Get that blade stuck in a piece of Cherry...

Following our color code, the yellow air hose is clean dry air for blowing chips and grit.

hand tools Gotta have a place for all those hand tools, duct tape and whatnot. After some fairly serious research, we chose the Clarke stuff. They have two quality levels, the red and the black, the black stuff is better. This was both the best AND the cheapest of all the offerings in the other stores around. Comes with rubber in the drawers, ball bearing slides, locks that work, and so on. Some boxes costing twice as much didn't have these features, and operated in a balky fasion besides. So, we consider this one of the real scores in our buying. Now, a working shop has tools out on the bench all the time, and ours sure does (see picture coming soon). What we did was get extras for the common hand tools, so some can be out on the bench, but if you just can't put your hand right on it, there's one in the toolbox too (and that one you put back right away or get a whippin').

The red thing on the floor in the back is the cooler for the employee kitchen. We've found refrigeration to be the real tough one on solar power. The thing that has worked out best is to have a freezer in an unheated building, and use that for freezing 2 liter pop bottles that then keep coolers cool around the homestead. This way the freezer doesn't run much in the winter, when it matters more. Our best power season is actually spring, when days are long but not yet hot. These tools may draw huge peak power, but they work so fast it doesn't work out to lots of kilowatt hours. Besides, they never come on in the middle of the night after a cloudy day like the freezer is wont to do.

big bench Finally, enough bench space...NOT. There is no such thing. This bench was built in place from 16' 2x10s, and stiffens the wall quite a bit. The shelves are also 2x material, and provide a place to put hooks for handtools. I suppose I am just the sort of guy who only cleans as necessary.
In the foreground is a little super–dremel tool I built out of a 1/4 hp motor, a grinder stand, and a flex shaft. I attached a drywall mud pan to the stand to hold various bits. This thing is sweet! I've made a couple of other ones for neighbors who tried it and fell in love. It is basically plenty of torque, but silent, and reversible, and rolls on wheels to where it's needed for those little "technical adjustments".

Out the door is our Simplicity Legacy tractor and cart we use to maintain the place, pull big 4WD trucks out of ditches, plow, log, and generally apply large force to outdoor things with delicacy. The hydrostatic drive is way nice.

Coulter's Smithing Home

This is so big and so much bandwidth, I think we'll do the upper floor as its own page. Upstairs is where we do electroplating, anodizing, the fiddly parts of gunsmithing and knifemaking, chemistry, physics, cooking, and wrote this page.

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