Monday, 26 March 2012

Getting Machinist's Measuring Tools Cheap

Careful measuring takes time
When it comes to machining, you are really limited in your ability and accuracy by your measuring tools. After I traded some scaffolding to get my lathe (I will make a post about that story at a later date), I came to realize the importance of measuring tools. I have never been lucky enough to have an abundance of money so I have had to wait for the deals to come along. This has taken me about 2 years and for the most part, my measuring has been done by a set of calipers I salvaged from the metal shop I worked in previously.

Metal rulers, the foundation of measuring tools
It does not matter how many fancy tools you own, you seem to use the humble metal ruler the most. I am a sucker for old tools and when I saw these babies, I had to save them. They were rusty and well used but probably spent hundreds of hours in the previous machinists hands. The block on the longer ruler is a nice addition which allows you to alter the length for scribing lines on sheet stock if repeatability is necessary. These rulers are lovely old things with pedigree blood lines...

Micrometers for every occasion
When I purchased my milling machine, I noticed some old dusty micrometers hanging on the wall. I made an offer to the old gent and walked off with a set of old fashioned micrometers. I was happy with the deal because despite the cheap price, these were quality measuring devices made in Sweden and the US of A. When it comes to these tools you need to make sure they have not been dropped or that the carbide surfaces are not chipped or rusty. These should be tested regularly and I will be giving them to my neighbour who happens to be a certifier for measuring tools and test equipment.

Keeping things on the level
When I received my lathe I realized without a good level, my accuracy and repeatability will suffer. The lovely old gent I purchased the mill and micromoeters from tossed in an old level too. I had doubts about it's accuracy since it's resolution wasn't as high as I would have liked. It did the job reasonably enough however I was still looking for what I would consider a "real" machinists level. This turned up about 6 weeks ago.

The first level I received is in the foreground and is a Union Tool Co. level. My guess is it was probably made in the 60's or 70's at the same time my mill was produced. The level in the wooden box is a little more interesting. It was manufactured in Czechoslovakia in the early 70's and appears to be of very high quality. It was made by a company called Kinex and was sold by Tor Karlsen Maskinforretning when phone numbers in Norway were only 6 digits in length.

I bought along with a bunch of other measuring tools from a whole-sale company that buys and re-sells auction lots. I paid significantly less than the 150 pounds that rotagrip UK is charging for the identical level on ebay:

12" Kinex level on ebay

Dial guage and dial test indicators
You really can't do much work precisely on a mill without these tools. These were in fact the items I have been researching the most and realised that they were an absolute must for milling work. Compromising here could result in a poor fit or a simple job made impossible. Luckily, the same company I bought my machinists level happened to have a bulk lot of Mitutoyo indicators as well. Some had been abused, other apparently were ok but had mechanisms that were not reliable. I chose the best of the bunch, happy in the thought that my neighbour who works in certifying these has a workmate who is the service agent for Mitutoyo in Norway.

Now eagle eyed readers have probably noticed the 2 little knife edge straight edges in the picture. I threw these in with the pile of tools from the wholesaler and confirmed my hunch that they really were not concerned with what you were buying and merely based their prices on how much you bought. These straight edges are both Mitutoyo and are straight as they come. I bought these on a hunch that they will come in handy as my skills in machinig improve and I attempt more precise projects.

The beauty of Mitutoyo test tools is that provided they are not electronic, there always seems to be parts available for them at reasonable prices. They are considered high quality so it's worth checking these out used.

Electronic precision
As I mentioned earlier, I had come to the realization that the wholesaler I was purchasing used tools from seemed to be selling by the weight, not the item. This is when I decided that it might be worth taking a gamble on a used Mitutoyo Digimatic digital caliper and a used Roch Caliper. The screens would not turn on but since they seemed to be in great condition, I grabbed them. A battery change later and I was presented with this:

Although I had never heard of Roch, this little detail:

... caught my attention and I pulled the trigger on it. European tools seem to generally be of a high standard and if the French's ability to make measuring tools exeeds their ability to produce sexist, smelly men, then it's a sure bet this baby is good.

A precise hole
I had taken notice of some Helios measuring tools at the wholesaler and the fact they are German made. I like German tools. The Germans approch precision with a no-nonsense, humorless manner that ensures that their tools and measuring instruments are probably only second to those made by the Swiss. Knowing what I do about German tools I threw this Helios depth guage into the steadily growing heap of precision tools:

Square edges and multi measuring card
I threw some more items together that I dug out of a heap of miscellaneous items. There was a no-name square that appeared to be of high quality. I figured this was an expensive tool because someone went to the trouble of making a wooden case for it that was definately non-standard (judging by the handsawing a carefully applied stain over the tear out). I also included a no-name electronic edge finder and a Helios angle and thickness guage.

The point of this all
I didn't post this to gloat about the deals I have managed to find. I posted this to show other young guys that you don't have to go out and buy new or use the credit card to buy the things you want. Getting a bargain just takes time and you have to be patient. All these tools probably cost me no more than $300 in total yet would have cost well over a thousand (or even two) if I didn't hold off from buying new. Check wholesalers and used machine dealers. Check ebay or craig's list if your in the USA. Don't let anyone walk off with your money easily because it's too darn hard to save it, and too easy to spend it.

Take care.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

PB Swiss; Swiss-Grip Screwdriver Set and Electronic Set Review

My preciousssss
There really is no substitute for quality. I bought my first screwdriver set more than 15 years ago and when I got tired of the drivers caming out of the screws, I started researching. I checked out Wiha, Wera and Felo and even Stahlwille. I stumbled onto PB Swiss and my experience with swiss tools made me take notice. I have 2 Inca machines that I use for woodworking which are top shelf quality and seem to be representative of Swiss manufacturing a quality control.

 PB Swiss; Swiss Grip Set, PB 8244
When the screwdrivers arrived, I was suprised at how little packaging and advertising material there was. PB Swiss seem to believe that less is more and I agree. The product should sell itself. I immediately took the drivers out into better light to check the quality. I was impressed at the feel of the PB Swiss Swiss-Grips. They were immaculate.
PB Swiss mentions their "parallel tips" as reducing cam-out on their blade drivers. They are not quite parallel but having tested the drivers on a variety of screws, I was suprised at how much of a difference this actually made. I will continue to use them them revisit my observations in-case it is more a case of rose-colored glasses
The details for the set can be found here:
PB Swiss Tools
The set comes with a wall rack to mount the screwdrivers. there are 2 philips and 3 blade screwdrivers. The shafts vary in length and the handle size also varies from driver to driver. The pictures show the difference between the smallest blade driver and the largest in the 8244 set.

As you can see by the photos, they fill the hand out well and were comfortable to hold. I have hams for hands and these seemed a good fit. I prefer larger handles like Wera offer, but this can also come at a cost with regards to access and clearance. The rubber on the Swiss Grips is not as soft as you might think however it still offers an excellent grip.

The PB Swiss Swiss Grip drivers have handle caps that clearly indicate which driver you are reaching for. This is a nifty feature and think it should be introduced to all drivers.
You may notice that there is no metal striking cap so I wouldn't recommend slugging these with a hammer to unfreeze rusted screws. I believe that this practice results in unecessary damage to both the screw and the driver for the most part. If you do have to resort to monstering a stuck screw with a hammer, use an old driver, not your nice new Swiss Grip.It's still early but so far I am pleased with the Swiss Grip set. If a driver ever fails, the lifetime guarantee should cover it and by using this individual serial number found on each driver...
... the investigator can track down the details to the individual batch of steel or rubber and find out what went wrong. All the while I will be happily content with my new replacement driver. I love me a lifetime guarantee!

PB Swiss Precision Screwdriver Set; PB 1620C
So how do the precision screwdrivers stack up? I bought this set because I have a large digital caliper that needed batteries changed. I used a cheap precision driver and nearly stripped one of the heads on the battery compartment. Seeing visions of me hunched over a tiny screw, trying to use a cheap driver to get purchase on a tiny screw scared me into holding off and ordering a decent set of precision drivers. I ordered both the Swiss Grips and Precision set at the same time.
The drivers were smaller than I expected however the quality was still top shelf. The tips seemed to be constructed to tight tolerances and the blades featured the "parallel tip".
While doing research on the drivers, I came across comments made regarding the handle material of the precision handles; Cellulose Acetate Butyrate or CAB

In short, this material has a tendency of smelling like a zombie's armpit if exposed to heat and kept confined. PB Swiss has remedied the problem:

Ice Cream Screwdrivers

If for any reason the smell overpowers the vanilla fragrance and it smells like a baby has yakked on your drivers, they will even replace them under their unlimited guarantee:

Date: Fri, 4 Dec 2009 16:04:00 +0100
Subject: AW: Kontakt

Dear Mr. :pimpflash

The plastic handles do contain Celluloseacetobutyrat (CAB) which is the material causing the smell (especially if you stock them in a closed area without fresh air, like for example in a drawer or in a tool case). If the smell isn’t bearable anymore, the tool can be changed for free (under guarantee). If you don’t like these plastic handles anymore, there would be an alternative, the handles made by Santoprene.

We hope this information is helpful. If you need more information, please let us know.

Best regards

Andreas Burkhalter

PB Swiss Tools GmbH

P.O. Box 182
CH-3457 Wasen/Bern
Direct P+ 41 34 437 71 16

F+ 41 34 437 71 90

Anyway enough of the nattering about handle smell and visuals. How do they perform? Well, the end cap spins freely and the handle material seems non-slip. The drivers differ in size too and although they are quite small, they function well.

 I managed to get the screw in my digital calipers out with minimal fuss. It was actually embarassing how easy it was with these. If you work with small screws, do yourself a favour and get a set of PB Swiss Precision screwdrivers. You will be glad you did. Oh, and this aint far from the truth either:

The Garage

It's been a while but I think now that things have calmed down slightly, I will kick off a new section. I spend a great deal of time in my garage and having just moved, half of my workshop is at the old address and half is here. Usually when blokes move, it does not cause much of a logistical issue. Unfortunately, I have a heap of tools and some of them weigh more than the average trailer can carry. This issue forced me to lash out and buy a manual forklift.

Unfortunately, it doesn't help you unload it off the trailer. I had to do it the old fashioned way...
This piece of equipment will help me move the heavy things without needing to organize a tractor at each location. Country folk are friendly but you don't want to disturb a farmer who is elbow deep in a calving cow to do you a "solid"... they tend to get surly.

I only buy what I can afford and don't buy tools on credit. I like the feeling I get from knowing I own what I have in the workshop and prefer to wait and save. I also like to buy quality tools so despite the temptation to buy a far east import, I waited and bought a forklift manufactured in the Czech Republic. I'll try and keep this section updated as I develop the garage. The plan is to have it insulated, have central vaccum and airlines, and to have 3 phase to power the machines. This won't happen overnight but will take some time to acheive. This is how the garage looks at the moment:

You probably noticed that the floor looks like it's been shot up. In typical Norwegian fashion, the tradesman took no pride in his work and poured an uneven, poorly mixed slab. Now it's chipping out and looks nasty. My plan is to hit it with a bonding agent, then fill in the holes and even out the worst of the floor with tile glue. This will be strong enough that when I paint it with epoxy floor sealant, it won't chip out. So there you have it, the garage so far, Stay tuned as I slowly improve it and bring it up to standard as a well stocked, capable workshop that can handle most projects. The following picture gives you an idea of what I enjoy and need the garage for. It is an Ixion drill in the middle of a refurb
Until next time folks.