Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

Chucked off!

If there's one item in the workshop that often draws more attention than the sight of a saxophone in bits on the workbench it's the lathe.

It sits menacingly in what I like to call "Father's Corner". This is because whenever a couple brings their young son or daughter in with a dodgy clarinet I often find the father makes a bee-line for the lathe, accompanied by a low, wishful murmur.

And rightly so - it's an impressive beastie.
It's an Emco Maximat V10-P (which will mean sweet FA to most of you, but to those in the know it will elicit a respectful nod of approval) which replaced that stalwart of the small scale craftsman, a Myford ML7.

I came across it quite by chance...perhaps it was destiny?
I have a dartboard up in the workshop - from time to time I like to tear myself away from the workbench and 'chuck a few arrows'. The concentration required to ensure the darts actually hit the board (and not bounce off the wall and thus through the computer's monitor) is rather akin to meditation, and serves to reinforce a sense of careful concentration on return to the workbench.
OK, so sometimes I skive!

I was unhappy with my darts though - good though they are I found the barrels to be a bit slippery, and it occurred to me that what they needed was a light knurl (a process that cuts a sort of crosshatch grip into metal). Being made of tungsten they were beyond my engineering capabilities, so I looked in the local directory and found an engineer a few miles up the road. I called him and he said to bring the darts round and he'd have a look at them, though he suspected they'd be too small to effectively 'chuck-up and knurl' without damaging them.

Well, any excuse to visit a fellow craftsman's workshop - so off I trundled.

It turned out that this chap specialised in making bespoke parts for Formula 1 racing cars - and his workshop was suitably packed out with all manner of huge, expensive looking machinery. We got to chatting - and I ended up forgetting to ask about the darts in favour of discussing the possibilities of him knocking up a few precision mandrels and jigs. And then I spotted it...tucked away in a corner...the Emco lathe, dwarfed by its bigger brothers.

Without getting too technical it had all the features I could ever need...including an extra long bed (great for bassoon joints) and a milling head (great for making keys), and far exceeded the Myford in terms of build and precision.
I drooled, and seeing my obvious desire the engineer told me that it was his 'odd-job' lathe...the one he used to turn up small jobs when the big machines were jigged up for a long run...and that he was thinking of selling it so that he could buy another, bigger machine. A perfect lathe for a woodwind repairer, only ever used by a professional engineer, maintained to the highest degree..and up for grabs.
I collected it a week later.

Having installed it (and waved a non too sincere goodbye to the old Myford) I was then visited by a client of mine who is something of an engineer himself. Naturally we duly gathered round the lathe and I showed off some of its features. I was particularly keen to demonstrate the fearful speed the lathe was capable of working at, and with a deft press of a couple of buttons (I just know this is making all the Myford owners green with envy) I revved the spindle up to 2000 rpm. The five inch chuck fair whistled on the spindle, the gears trundled along smoothly and all was right with the world.

Until I hit the off switch.

I had neglected to lock the chuck on the spindle. At 2000 rpm with a five inch diameter lump of steel you're bound to get a little inertia..and as the spindle slowed...the chuck didn't... and proceeded to wind its way off the spindle.I watched in abject terror as the chuck, still spinning wildly, dropped off the spindle, rolled onto the bed of the lathe, dropped onto the stand and then headed for the floor. I then did the most incredibly stupid thing.

Over the years I have developed something of a reflex action. It comes chiefly from working with dent balls. These, being round, are inclined to roll off benches - and the last thing you want is a to let a dent ball hit the floor and get all scuffed you tend to whip your foot out under it. It hits your shoe and rolls gently to the floor with no harm done. I bet most of us have this reflex to some degree.

So I stuck my foot out...underneath a lump of steel the size of a large grapefruit, spinning at great speed and heading for the floor from about three feet up.

The gods must have been smiling down on me (or howling with derision) because the chuck just caught the toe of the shoe and, having sliced it neatly off, whizzed off under a bench where it came to rest a few seconds later.

There was not a mark on the lathe bed, and the chuck (bloody well locked this time) ran as true as ever ...and I spent the rest of the day with a toe peeking out of the end of my shoe.

To add insult to injury I had a hole in my sock - and a fair number of clients to see.

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