Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oh My Aching Back, Legs, Arms, Shoulders, Neck, Etc.

1950's Era Covel surface grinder in the shop of the former owner.

Ironically it sometimes takes machinery to make hand tools to a very high level of fit and finish. Last year I purchased a small 6 x 12 surface grinder. Initially I used this tool to perform the surface grinding on my plane irons when they returned from the heat treating process, but as it usually goes once you have a tool and get acquainted with the way it works you find ways to use it to the best advantage in other areas of your work. This sometimes leads to the pursuit of a tool with increased capacity.

Craig's List has recently met my needs in this area, maybe a little too well. In the case of the 50's era Covel surface grinder that I recently purchased it seems as though it worked out beautifully. A nice piece of old iron, in good shape, at a very good price. When I went to look at this machine I made sure that my good friend and master machinist Johnny Kleso could accompany me for the inspection trip. The ad stated that the machine had been completely disassemble, cleaned, painted and all parts that needed replacement had in fact been replaced. I've traveled to inspect machines in the past in which the ad stated they had been completely refurbished, or were like new, only to arrive and find a machine that had paint over rust.

Johnny and I walked into the sellers shop to find a machine that looked to be nicely refurbished. Of course the spindle is the heart of the surface grinder and if it's not running true then the rest of the machine is not worth much. I switched on the machine, the spindle started up and was whisper quiet. Not so much as a shudder when it started. Cool!

There was however a catch. This machine weighed 1800 pounds and was in a basement with only stairs as the access. The picture below shows the surface grinder partially broken down in the basement of the sellers shop.

A deal was made and I set a date in which to retrieve the machine. The day before I was to fetch the surface grinder my good friend Jameel Abraham was arriving to spend the week, escaping the Iowa winter. As you can probably imagine this was no coincidence. When Jameel left Iowa Sunday morning it was 12 degrees, when he got off the plane in Atlanta that afternoon it was 72 degrees, the sun was shining and the sky was quite blue. Unfortunately the next day it rained and so we postponed the transport of the surface grinder until later in the week. We arrived in Decatur, Ga. Wednesday morning with a bag full of tools, a camera, and a bunch of ziplock bags that would be used to label and package hardware. We disassembled everything that two people could carry away from the grinder and packed those pieces in the truck and then spent a couple of hours putting together a strategy for handling the three heaviest castings. We arrived home that night about 7:30 tired from a long day and we still had the task of unloading the truck.

We estimated the base casting to weigh 600 pounds, the base cap casting about 500 pounds and the spindle column casting maybe 350 pounds. A plan is needed to handle pieces of this magnitude safely, especially with the limited space in which to move these pieces. Things this heavy go down steps much easier than they go up steps.

The next morning we returned and unstacked the castings using a come-a-long hanging from a floor joist in the basement and lowered them onto a heavy caster that we then wheeled out the door. We made a ramp on the steps using a piece of 3/4" plywood. We tugged the pieces up the ramp with the come-a-long that was anchored to the base of a shrub that had been in place over a decade. No shrubs were injured in the moving of this machine, there was however a patch of oregano that took a pretty good beating from the foot traffic.

We wheeled the pieces around the house to the driveway to load them into the truck and that's when it started sleeting. The sleet turned into rain while we were loading the pieces into the truck with the help of an engine hoist. Luckily the areas of raw cast iron were well oiled, you can see the rain beading up on the oil in the picture below.

We were able to get all the parts in the truck, it was still raining and we were cold, tired, sore and wet. We headed home.

When we arrived home the first order of business was to take some Tylenol, the second order of business was to eat the burgers and fries that my wife Julie had waiting on us and the third order of business was to once again pull on our wet, cold gloves and unload the truck. Without the assistance of the young man pictured below using the engine hoist to remove the last piece from the truck, this machine would have not made it to my shop in any reasonable amount of time. Thanks Jameel, I will be forever grateful.

By 10:30 that night all the pieces were unloaded. We dried all the surfaces with paper towels and a hair dryer and applied a new coat of oil to the bare cast iron surfaces.

This picture was taken several days later and shows the machine fully reassembled and in my shop. This machine is truly massive and truly amazing in performance. This old iron thing could get addictive. I keep telling myself, "stay off of Craig's List"," stay off of Craig's list."

When pursuing the acquisition of a machine of this nature it makes all the difference to have the help of knowledgeable people and friends like Johnny Kleso and Jameel Abraham.

"Thanks guys!"



  1. Ron,

    Did you ever consider employing a professional moving outfit to do the job? They might be expensive, but provide the role of "governor" next time you start perusing craigslist.

    Great looking machine. Have fun!

  2. Tico, I did think about it. I figured they would take one look at where this machine was located and start laughing as they walked back to their truck.

    The other issues is this, putting this machine in the hands of someone else is risky. They might not realize that if they damage a major part of this machine that it could well be impossible to get a replacement part.

    I will say this however, moving this machine has slowed my search for a knee mill down considerably.


  3. Ron,

    I see your new grinder has wheels on the base. Is this the NASCAR version?

    Glad to see you managed the whole thing without injury.


  4. They do say that you've got to suffer for your art Ron. Nice find!

    Andy (UK)

  5. I'm a real sucker for old equipment too Ron - moved a 400# planer into the basement - it ended up flipping off the handtruck and rolling down a hill. Luckily all that heavy cast iron didn't even flinch (the vegetation on the hill didn't do so well though). My issue is that the ceiling height is so low in the basement that I've got to be careful on the height of equipment. I'm hoping to find one of those old Atlas bench-top surface grinders - it will fit in well with my old Craftsman branded Atlas lathe.