A rolling blog of everyday life
on and around the workbench
I've been having a spot of fun buying a few tools lately. Well,
I say fun - because there's a fair bit of work that goes into research
before I feel comfortable about handing over quite large sums of
money for gadgets that I expect to last me for a good few years.
The most pressing item on the list was a new cordless drill. My
old Hitachi has seen a lot of use, and better days - and while it
was always reasonably accurate it was never really fast enough.
The batteries were rather weak too - and because it costs almost
as much to buy a whole new drill as it does to buy a couple of new
batteries, it was time to see what else was on the market these
The first order of business was to decide what I wanted from the
tools - and because they're replacing existing tools, to decide
what improvements I'd be looking for. Having nailed down a wish-list
of specs, the next job was to find out which tools met the criteria...which
usually means trawling around a lot of websites, jotting down facts
and figures. Once a shortlist had been drawn up it was time to go
hunting reviews, and this was perhaps the most frustrating aspect
of the task. What I'd have really liked to find was the 'SHWoodwind
of <insert desired item here>' - you know...nicely-balanced
reviews that go into plenty of technical details, all the pros and
cons spelled out and weighed up, and the sense that whoever's conducting
the review is impartial. And yeah, it never hurts if they're slightly
obsessed by the subject either.
you've ever spent any time browsing for tool reviews you'll know
that such people are few and far between - and a great many video
'reviews' seem to consist of one or two rather shouty geezers who
wave their tools in the air (and you can read that any way you like)
and never really tell you that much about the item in question...other
than to say it's really good, how much it costs and where you can
get it (affiliate links provided, of course). I managed to find
a few reviews that seemed sensible, as well as a couple that actually
took a screwdriver to the products and pulled them apart - but for
the most part the most useful information came from real-world reviews...people
who'd bought and used the tools for a few months and had a few comments
to share about the experience.
But, of course, nothing beats actually getting
your hands on the gear and seeing how it performs for your needs
- and as luck would have it there was a large tool fair coming to
a town near me, which meant that not only could I try the tools
out, but I'd also get to speak to the company reps (who tend to
know more about their products that your average seller).
Come the day I had a traditional 'going to a tool fair breakfast'
of a bacon sarnie and a mash o' tea, put on my best checked fleece
jacket, popped a dab of WD40 behind my ears, gave my boots a bit
of a scuffing and set off to mingle with several thousand other
punters who'd all had the same idea. And I also took with me a short
length of ground steel rod.
I figured I might feel a bit out of place, what
with the focus of the show being the building trades and me being
a posh craftsman an' all, and as I pulled into the car-park I realised
my fears were well-founded. I parked my old banger next to a sparkly
new Mercedes and took care not to bash my door into the gleaming
Jag beside me. I even spotted an Aston Martin on my 'walk of shame'
from the car-park to the exhibition hall which left me a little
rueful, admittedly - but it at least prompted me to come up with
one of those 'wise old sayings' such as a father might pass on to
his offspring, and it's "There's more brass in building than
silver in saxophones" (it packs a bit more punch if you preface
it with "Eeee lad..."). But hey, I'm a craftsman...right?
It was a pretty good show - and aside from the
power tool companies there were a few stands that featured soldering
and brazing equipment, adhesives, abrasives, lighting, lubricants
and general hand tools. Had a very nice chat with the guy from Rothenberger
about their gas torches, got to try out some Wera and Wiha screwdrivers
(not bad, but nowhere near as nice as my old Stanleys), had a look
at the new Dremel stuff and looked at the possibility of investing
in some LED panel lighting. And there were freebies to be had too!
But the main event for me was the narrowing down of my shortlist
of drills - which was where the ground steel bar came into play.
A hand drill is never going to be as accurate as a pillar drill
or a lathe, but it makes sense to get the best you can - so I made
a complete nuisance of myself by bunging the rod into various drills
and seeing how much it wobbled.
I have to say I was very surprised by some of the results. I hadn't
really gone in with a budget in mind - if what I needed was gonna
cost me, then so be it - but it took just a couple of minutes to
write off two of the most expensive brands that are supposed to
be a cut above the rest.
As you can see by the shot above, I ended up going
with Milwaukee - for several reasons.
Their drill exceeded the specs I needed and had easily the most
accurate chuck. The rep was curious about my test with the ground
steel bar, and when I explained what I'd mostly be using the drill
for, he grabbed a whole bunch of them and insisted I check each
and every one in turn. They were all the same. Better yet, it's
part of what they call a 'system' - which means that one battery
fits a whole range of tools....of which there are around 70 or so.
Now that's bloody sensible - because the more tools you have that
fit a particular battery, the more economical it becomes when you
have to buy a new one. I mentioned this to the rep, who promptly
took me on a tour of the whole damn range...which includes a very
interesting polisher that could be converted into a very high speed
drill (great for lapping rod screws). As you can see, I succumbed
to the lure of new tools and splashed out on an impact driver too.
It's not much use for fixing horns, but comes into its own when
building benches and jigs.
few weeks later I also treated myself to a new live (or revolving)
centre for the lathe.
This is an important bit of kit if you have a lathe, and is used
to support the free end of the workpiece while the other end is
held in the chuck. It's called a live centre because it's able to
spin with the work - as opposed to a dead centre (lower right) which
is static. I must have had the old live centre (upper right) for
the best part of 30 years, and while it's always been good enough
for my purposes it's always been a bit on the large size...and it's
starting to show its age (they get a bit wobbly).
While you can usually get by with just the one live centre, it's
handy to have more than one - perhaps in different sizes or with
a different heads. The thing is though, they ain't cheap - or at
least a decent one isn't - and it's seldom worth buying cheap when
you need a degree of accuracy that you know is going to hold over
a lengthy period of time.
Milwaukee system got me a-thinkin'; what would make perfect sense
is a live centre system...a single body onto which various heads
could be fitted. It made such sense that I was sure someone would
have already thought of it...and so they have.
This kit came with half a dozen interchangeable
heads (or tips, if you like) that fit onto the body by means of
a small taper. This makes them very accurate and repeatable - if
you take them out and put them back in again, they sit in exactly
the same place each time. But better still it was now possible to
make up my own heads to fit the body.
The ones that came with the centre are all just variation of the
three you can see on the right - in other words they're just points
of various sizes (though there's also a small 'reverse' point).
This is all fine, and very useful, but in this trade you sometimes
need centres that are somewhat unique.
The ones I've knocked up (so far) are on the left
- and are labelled thusly:
A: A reverse point...AKA a cone. This is good for supporting wooden
tubes, which a traditional centre might cause to split.
B: A bore centre. This fits inside the lower end of a clarinet's
lower joint and allows full access to the surface and the face of
the tenon sleeve, with no risk of spitting the sleeve.
C: Key pearl friction chucks. You may remember I made a gadget for
turning pearls to size back in February
2018 - which fits into a standard drill chuck. It works just
fine, but there's no sense in having to remove the live centre and
then fit a chuck...and then fit the friction chuck when I can simply
pop a dedicated head into the live centre that's nearly always on
the lathe anyway.
D: Straight bar: I've no immediate use for this, but if I need to
knock up a custom centre on the quick it'll be a lot less work to
make something that'll fit over a plain rod than it would be to
set the lathe up to cut a short taper (it took at least an hour
to set it up to make this little lot).
E: Larger friction chucks. These are handy when you want to turn
thin sheets of metal or wood into discs (such as the precision flat
standards for tonehole levelling - also mentioned in the February
F: Drill chuck. When you're using very small drills (or taps) it's
often better to spin them by hand. It gives a better feel as to
how the tool is coping and cutting. It's also another means of mounting
quick and dirty custom centres that don't need a high degree of
made them all up in one session, mostly because of the hassle of
setting the lathe up to cut the taper. As nice as my lathe is, it
doesn't have the best rotating topslide arrangement - so dialling
in a taper is a matter of getting it as close as you can 'by the
numbers' and then tweaking it (with a wooden mallet) until it's
just right. It's a lot of going back and forth, so once you've got
the topslide in the right place you really, really don't want to
move it. Needless to say, I gave a lot of thought to what other
heads might be useful before I repositioned the slide to cut the
cone on item A...
So it's been a bit of a costly few weeks on the
whole - but that's how it goes with tools. You sometimes have to
spend out to save time, and to be able to do a better job. But like
anyone else I'm all for saving a few bob here and there...which
is why the smaller of the friction chucks (E) is particularly satisfying.
Tools cost money, but so does the material used to make them - and
while most of the heads had to be cut from solid lumps of stainless
steel, I made the smaller chuck out of an old BMW wheel stud.
Likewise, item F was made from the chuck and shaft out of an old
power drill. It had been kicking around in a drawer for over 20
years - but I always knew it'd come in handy one day...