Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last Equipment Upgrade for a Long Time!

Equipment acquisition is sometimes a wonderful way to increase your capabilities, efficiency and accuracy in your work. However it's not a decision made lightly. When you embark on an upgrade it typically involves a large amount of time and effort to research the purchase thoroughly and also to market and sell the equipment that is to be replaced.

For these reasons it almost always impacts your regular shop schedule in a negative way and creates a time period in which you'll put in long hours maintaining progress on the in process work occurring in the shop and then additional time in the evening setting up the new machine and preparing it to take over part of the work load
This latest upgrade has been one of the most challenging I've attempted to date. I know there's a guy with a beard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that might want to argue this point, stating this machine did not have to be moved out of a basement during two rainy days. However the acquiring of the knee milling machine pictured in this post encompassed many structural and technical aspects that had not been issues in prior machinery additions. The picture above shows the mill fresh off the truck.

When I put the forks of the lift under the pallet and raised them I could feel the hydraulics of the lift straining to raise this load. The first thing that came into my mind was "what have I done?", immediately follow by a mental picture of this thing crashing thru the floor of my shop and onto the ground underneath. However I was too far into this to turn back. The truck driver had just completed a trip of 2200 miles with this mill on his truck and I don't think he would have taken very kindly to the idea of making a return trip.

To begin with this machine is massive. It weighs a good solid ton. Yep 2000 pounds. The biggest milling machine that I've handled prior to this one weighed 1000 pounds. Once you start acquiring machines that weight in excess of 600 pounds you're past the realm of thinking in terms of how many people you would need to move a given item. You've also passed into the realm of how do we move this thing without getting someone hurt. In this case I would be attempting to install this 2000 pound mill in a shop with a wooden structured floor so structural issues had to be dealt with prior to moving forward with this purchase.

I also knew that I would have to traverse an unpaved area to get to the load in door of my metal working shop. This was one part of the move that really concerned me, however it turned out to be one of easiest parts of moving the mill to the final location.

To actually set the mill into the shop it was removed from the pallet and held aloft under the ram of the head. I was very deliberate with this entire process. This was no place to get in a hurry. Finally it was in the shop. The person in the picture below is my friend Terry Sebright. He's not a big guy by any means, however seeing him in comparison to the mill you get an idea of the size of this machine.

The mill was moved into final position using a series of metal pipes and pry bars. At this point I'm just glad it's still on the correct side of the subfloor. Obviously my design of the floor shoring was up to the task.

There was still an enormous amount of work needed to get this mill up and running and finally 9 days after the truck arrived with the mill it has finally made it's first chips.

Even before this mill arrived it was scheduled for several upgrades. I'll be using a new tool holding system that is a series of collets that will allow me to change tooling in a fraction of the time this task has required in the past and there is not a major change required to go from milling to drilling.

In stock condition this mill achieves speed changes by moving the drive belt to different pulley positions. I have already upgraded this aspect. This mill now has digital speed control achieved thru a device know as a VFD or Variable Frequency Drive unit. This is one of the more technical aspects of this entire ordeal and required a good deal of research to sort out the wiring, installation and programming of this device. When it all worked I declared myself an "Electro-Magician".

There is one more major upgrade to be installed on this mill. It will receive a 3 axis digital readout system. This system will allow locations to be precisely positioned to within 2/10s of one thousandth of an inch.

Now that the machinery moving is over for a while I'm going to concentrate on posting more about the actual process of plane making and how these machines figure into the process and also about when the machine work stops and the hand work begins. Machines can do a lot of great work, however it's only when the human hand comes into the work that a certain look and feel is imparted to the item, and that will never change.


"Experience is the Name we give to our Mistakes"


  1. "The right side of the subfloor" gave me a good belly laugh!

    Gorgeous piece of gear Ron, I'm looking forward to seeing how this machine affects workflow and output. Congratulations

  2. Mither o' God! And I was just starting to get excited about "upgrading" to a fifties era Walker Turner drill press.

  3. Ron,

    When you initially built your shop, did you envision that someday these goliaths would be part of it?

  4. Tico when I originally built my shop my metal working room was actually an addition that was my finishing room and no I never imagined that machines of this nature would ever reside in my shop space.

    This was during the period of time when I was making furniture on a commissioned basis. I had worked on enough concrete shop floors in my time to know that it was bad on your legs, however now I wish there was a section of my shop floor that was in fact concrete covered with anti-fatique mats. Installing the shoring under this floor was one of the most difficult task in preparation for receiving the mill.


  5. Hi Ron,

    Sorry for the Anonymous post. Blogger newbie here! Did you by chance buy that mill on eBay back in March. I see one sold on the 27th.

    I have been looking for a mill for months now and as you said sorting through all the options like Clark, Birmingham, Sharp, Webb, Acer, Aone, Kent, BPT, Eisen, etc... is quite a job. From what I have seen I really like the Eisen and was wondering if you could could give your impressions of the mill.

    How was the quality and "Fit & Finish." Would you buy another? If you bought from Eisen Machinery, are you satisfied with their service?

    I appreciate any info you are able to provide.

    Bob J