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MachinistBlog.com

Plans, projects and how-to's for home machinists

Why I Bought a Trailer Instead of a Truck

Some might not consider a utility trailer to be a tool but I do and it’s one of my most useful ones. This article describes why and reviews Harbor Freight’s 4×8-foot utility trailer, item number 90154.

I lost the ability to bring home full-size sheets of plywood and other large items, which I do often, when we replaced my wife’s mini-van with a small SUV about five years ago. I thought about buying a used pickup truck but I had a long commute and a perfectly good car that was paid for and got much better gas mileage than even a compact pickup would get. A truck wouldn’t get driven much it and it would take up a lot of room in our driveway. Worse, even an old rust-bucket would cost me thousands of dollars and I’d have reoccurring expenses for insurance, registration and maintenance. So I put a trailer hitch on my Camry and bought an inexpensive utility trailer from Harbor Freight instead.

“Basic” Cost

I’m not certain but I think I bought it on sale for about $225. They’re often on sale now for about $300 and you might be able to save an additional 20% with a coupon. The trailer hitch and wiring for my Toyota Camry cost another $300. The trailer comes without a deck so I also spent about $80 on a 3/4-inch thick sheet of exterior plywood, some paint to help protect it from the weather and a bunch of bolts, washers and Nyloc nuts to attach it to the trailer frame. With taxes, registration and an inspection sticker my total basic cost to get it on the road was about $650.

Accessories

Over time I added accessories Harbor Freight to my trailer to make it more useful and easier to use.

An assortment of ratcheting tie-down straps: I use wide heavy-duty straps for almost everything and I often use more than I need to because it’s not worth taking chances.

Swing back trailer jack (about $26 on sale): This must-have accessory keeps your trailer level when it’s unhitched and makes it easier to move.

Wooden Sides – homemade from 1×6 and 2×4 pressure-treated lumber (~$80): I still haven’t decided how to connect the sides together at the corners. If I need to I just run heavy-duty tie-down straps around the outside.

Six 1/2-inch forged D-rings and mounting hardware (~$45): These are mounted on the trailer’s deck at the corners and near the mid-point of each long side. They make it a lot easier to attach tie-downs. Without them you have to attach them to the underside of the trailer where they can be damaged by edges of the trailer. I used metal backing bars to keep the mounting bolts from pulling through the plywood deck. I also used Nyloc nuts so the bolts couldn’t become loose from vibration.

Spare tire ($50) and a spare tire carrier ($13): After five years I decided it would be wise to have a spare tire. I still need to buy a lug wrench and jack that I can keep with the trailer.

2-ton Shop Crane (~$160 /w coupon): I bought it to safely get a 400-pound jump shear on and off the trailer. I couldn’t have used it with a pickup truck because it wouldn’t have been able to lift it high enough to get it on the bed. Now that I have one I keep finding uses for it and friends who would like to borrow it.

Ramps (still to come): Even Harbor Freight’s ready-made ramps seem kind of pricey. So I’m probably going to fabricate my own attachments for planks. Ramps will make it easier for me to get lawn tractors, snow blowers and other items with wheels on and off the trailer.

Review

It’s light and easy to move

My trailer’s shipping weight is 159-pounds. It probably weighs about 250-pounds with a 3/4-inch thick plywood deck and all the accessories I’ve added to it. I’ve found it to be very easy to pull by hand even when it’s loaded and on gravel or grass. That’s really helpful because it’s very hard to back up with my car because it’s so short. I also can’t see it unless the sides are on it or something tall is sitting on it. So I often don’t even try to back it in, especially if I’m on a busy road. I just pull in, unhook the trailer and pull it by hand to where it has to go. To make it even easier I keep a loop of rope tied to the tongue.

The trailer’s light weight makes it very easy to hook it up because you can move the trailer to your hitch instead of having to back your vehicle up to it. I can have it completely hooked up and ready to go in less than 3 minutes (5 minutes if I have to turn my car around in the driveway).

It folds-up for storage

I took advantage of this feature to store my trailer against a stockade fence for a couple of winters. But I don’t do that anymore because now it gets used year-around. When folded it’s about 5-feet high and wide, and about 15-inches thick.

The trailer is hinged in the middle of the deck so the back half folds and lays on the front. The tongue is also hinged so it will  fold against the bottom when you pull a couple of pins. Once that’s done you can tip the whole trailer up so it sits on a couple of brackets near the fenders that each have two swivel wheels. The wheels on mine were plastic and the same kind you often see on office desk chairs. They probably would have been fine on asphalt or concrete but they didn’t last too long on the gravel next to my garage. After they broke I had to “walk” the trailer to move it.

One problem is the two halves won’t fold completely flat because the hinges can’t accommodate the 3/4-inch think plywood I used for the deck. They probably would have been fine if I’d used 5/8 or 1/2-inch but I wanted the extra strength and to be able to countersink the heads of the mounting bolts.

The hinges also occasionally cause some problems with the trailer lights by preventing the “ground” from getting back to the car, probably because of corrosion. I tried bypassing them with wire but for some reason that didn’t help. But it happens infrequently and if I drive it down the road for a mile or so the bouncing quickly wears away whatever rust or corrosion was causing the problem.

The trailer’s pretty stable when it’s folded up but it could hurt someone if it somehow fell over. So I always tied it to my fence. It also takes some strength to tip up and there’s a chance you could hurt your back or pinch your fingers.

It took awhile to assemble

The trailer has to be assembled and it probably took me at least 2 full days. The directions weren’t very good and I took apart and reassembled the trailer frame at least twice before I got it right. I had to go get a sheet of plywood for the deck and then drill and countersink holes for the mounting bolts and paint it before permanently mounting it. I also had to grease the wheel bearings, mount the lights and install the wiring harness.

Of course, after I was done I started noticing nice used full-assembled utility trailers that were for sale for about the same amount that I had invested in mine.

One Concern

I’ve been very happy with my trailer until just recently, although it’s not really the trailer’s fault. I’ve been thinking about buying an old Simplicity compact tractor to restore and the ones I’ve found so far on Craigslist have been at least 200 miles away. They’re heavy enough with accessories to approach the trailer’s 1200-pound load capacity. The trailer also has 12-inch Chinese made tires that are not suppose to exceed 55 mph. So I’m nervous about using it to pulling something heavy at high speeds for a long distance. Harbor Freight sells a nearly identical trailer for about $50 more that has a 1700-pound capacity but it still comes with tires made by who knows who in China.

Rear-mounted Parting Tool Holder for Sherline Lathe

This is the rear-mounted parting tool holder for my Sherline lathe.  It’s based on a design that’s been around for decades and I made it about 12 years ago, before Sherline offered one for sale. It is just a block of 6061-T6 aluminum and it cost almost nothing to make. Further on you’ll find drawings that will help you make your own. The design could probably be adapted for 7×10/12 mini-lathes, which are notoriously bad at parting-off.

Yeah, I know its beat up and ugly but it is extremely solid and functions perfectly. As you know, a rear mounted parting tool pushes the carriage down instead of raising it up so rigidity is markedly enhanced. My parting tool does not chatter, dig in, or deflect. It cuts cleanly in all materials I have used it on, at speeds averaging 2-3 times normal turning speeds.

The main features of the tool holder are

  • It accepts all 1/2-inch tall P-type blades, mounted upside down.
  • The bottom of the slot is on the exact centerline of my particular lathe. This allows the tool to be extended however far I need while still remaining at centerline. Canted designs do not do this. The Sherline OEM tool holder may not be on the centerline either so a shop-made one is a better option.
  • There is a ledge on the bottom of the tool holder that automatically aligns the tool perpendicular to the work. A single screw locks the tool to the carriage in a few seconds. The ledge eliminates the possibility of movement, even under very heavy loads.

Inverting the parting tool does several things

  • Improves geometry. Instead of being a zero-rake cutter an inverted tool has back rake, which assumes the importance of side rake on a turning tool. This not only reduces cutting forces but also greatly improves chip ejection from the cut and thereby also reduces cutting temperatures. Furthermore, the 5-degree side rake on a P-type tool also narrows the chip, improving chip ejection even more.
  • Improved oiling. On an upright parting tool the chips are piling up on top of the blade and carry much of the cutting fluid away before it even gets to the tip. With an inverted tool the oil gets to the tip first, further reducing cutting temperatures and improving both accuracy and finishes because the cut is no longer dry.

So, you have greatly increased rigidity, reduced cutting forces and cutting temperatures, improved oiling, and the ability to cut at higher speeds that leads to improved accuracy and finishes. With all of this I cannot imagine why a guy wouldn’t rear-mount a parting tool!

I also believe the improved geometry allows a blade to cut a larger work piece than expected. A P1N blade is usually used for work up to 3/4-inch OD but I use mine on work up to 1-1/2-inch OD, double what you would expect to be able to cut. I do alter the angle at the nose of the tool; I use 7 degrees instead of 5 or 10. I have found edge life to be greatly improved, while still clearing chips easily.

Here is an example of a cut made in 12L14 mild steel. The OD is 1-1/4-inch at the cut. Depth of the grooving cut is 5/16-inch and I made two cuts side by side to allow my turning tool to fit in there. Speed is 1200 RPM and I purposely extended the blade about 5 times more than needed for this depth of cut to see if I could induce chatter – there was none – note the finish inside the groove. This part was later parted off about an inch from the chuck at the same speed and came off cleanly. I assure you that I cut like this all the time, in all sorts of materials.I set cutting speeds based on how the feed feels. The tool should cut freely and easily but allow me to feel the tip in contact with the work while feeding at a pace I can keep up with comfortably. Because the tool cuts so well there is little fear of digging in or chattering so speeds and feeds are much higher than you would expect. Continue reading Rear-mounted Parting Tool Holder for Sherline Lathe

Grinding Lathe Tools on a Belt Sander – For the New Guy

I’m a believer.  As a new guy I totally sucked at grinding lathe tools.  It’s almost painful to admit how many stubby, misshapen, multi-faceted, overheated and just plain ugly lathe tools I made back then.  The amazing thing is that some of those tools actually worked as well as the pre-ground tools that came with my lathe.  I started to believe those guys that tell you, “… just get it close and it will work.”  Of course, I was too embarrassed to call myself a hobby machinist with those Franken-tools so I bought an expensive set of inserted tip carbide tools that I thought would make a major difference but was disappointed.  They couldn’t rough as deep or finish as well as my ugly high speed steel (HSS) tools, at least not on my lathe, so then I believed those guys that tell you, “… stick with HSS on a hobby lathe.”  Hey, desperation can make you mighty receptive, you know.

Fast forward 15 years and now I believe, after having ground many experimental tools, that the best lathe tool for a hobby-class lathe is a HSS tool with its tip geometry modified to reduce the cutting forces it produces, ground on a belt sander.

Since standard tools are intended for use on industrial lathes their geometry can produce cutting forces that are excessive at times, especially when roughing but this can also affect sizing and finishing cuts.   To be clear, cutting force is that force produced by the tip geometry of the tool that must be overcome to make a cut.   We can look at it as a continuous resistance generated by the shape of the tool as it is pushed through the material during the cut.  A standard HSS tool has a broad, wedge shape and creates a lot of resistance (carbide is even worse), so we must dial down our control inputs (depths of cut, feeds and speeds) to use them.  If we alter the tool so it has a narrower included angle it cuts with less resistance, thus lowering the rigidity and power needed to make a given cut.We still have to manage our control inputs but since the cutting forces are lower we would expect to be able to cut deeper, achieve better accuracy in sizing and finishing cuts, and finish better with greater ease before running into the rigidity and power limits of the lathe. And this is exactly what happens.

To demonstrate this I took a 0.050” deep cut in 12L14 mild steel on my admittedly older hobby-class manual mini-lathe using a very good quality inserted tip carbide roughing tool with a new insert, a sharp freshly ground high speed steel (HSS) roughing tool with standard tip geometry ground for steel, and the general purpose tool with modified tip geometry (not optimized for steel) that was ground for this discussion.

The carbide tool made the cut but chatter was excessive.  Speed was as low as I could reasonably go and the feeding force was very high.  The finish is really ugly due to all the chatter and the chips are tiny and powdery.  Reducing the depth of cut to 0.010, the proper depth of cut for this insert, allowed it to cut as it should.
The HSS roughing tool did fair but there was a lot of chatter.  Speeds and feeds had to be adjusted almost constantly to make it this far.  Finish is rough but not excessive for a roughing cut.  Chips are tightly curled due to the standard side rake.  Reducing the cut to 0.030” allowed the tool to work much better.
The modified tool cut easily, speed was about 100 RPM higher than with the other tools and there was no chatter at all.  Finish is much better compared to the other tools.  The chips look more like loose shavings due to the sharper included angle at the tip.
Chips from the carbide tool, HSS rouging tool and the modified tool are distinctly different.  You absolutely cannot fake a chip.  They tell you exactly what is going on at the tip of the tool.

Continue reading Grinding Lathe Tools on a Belt Sander – For the New Guy

Modifying a Craftsman 2 X 42-inch Belt Sander For Tool Grinding

The Craftsman 2 X 42-inch belt sander is a very good general purpose belt sander.  With its 1/2 HP motor it can handle most light duty work in the shop, including grinding lathe tools for both metal and wood lathes.  This grinder allows for very fast belt changes, tracks well with a simple adjustment and has enough power to grind tools without overheating or bogging down.  However, it does have two deficiencies that must be addressed before any serious grinding can be done on it — the main grinding table and the platen.

The OEM table is made of cast aluminum.  It pivots on and locks with a single large screw.  Firm pressure on the table can overcome this screw and the table will move with the belt running, which is very dangerous.  My advice is to dump it and build a decent table.

The OEM platen is stamped mild steel.  It is okay for light use like shaping Popsicle sticks but will not last long grinding lathe tools.  The platen is mounted solidly to the chassis and is fairly stiff but pressure on the belt will wear a divot into it quickly so basically it’s useless once this happens.

Resolving these deficiencies isn’t difficult but it requires some fabrication.  I’ll show you how I addressed them.

The Platen Fix

A grinder platen has to be solid and unyielding, flat and ideally long wearing despite driving a grinding belt and grit over its surface.  No steel platen I know of will withstand this kind of abuse for long but a ceramic glass liner will.  This liner is actually a high temperature glass material originally developed by Corning and is commonly sold by knife making suppliers in 2-inch wide X 1/4-inch thick slabs of varying lengths.  Commonly known as Pyroceram, it is usually mounted to a steel backing plate with JB Weld.  This stuff is highly wear and heat resistant and only a full-time knife maker is likely to ever wear one out.  If you do no other mods to your grinder at least do this one.

I used a 2-inch wide X 9-inch long X 1/4-inch thick piece of O-1 precision ground steel as a platen/backing plate because I wanted a flat mounting surface that would not move with heat over time.  I know that mild steel can move with localized heat and while this may not break the epoxy bond … it might.  So far, I have had no separation issues so this worked for me.

I drilled and tapped two 1/4-20 holes on each edge so the platen can be flipped over if the liner ever wears on one end.  A piece of 1/8-inch thick X 1.5-inch wide angle iron (not aluminum) is used to attach this backing piece to the side of the chassis using the OEM screws and platen mounting holes.  The mounting holes in the angle iron are slotted to allow squaring of the platen to the belt.  Offset your platen and chassis screws if you copy this; the way I did it works but it would be better if the screws were clear of each other.

Before attaching the liner to the platen, be sure to lightly bevel or round the side edges of the liner and more generously round the top and bottom edges to prevent cutting the belt.  This is best done on a slack 50-60 grit belt.  The sparks will be orange and the glass will glow but it grinds easily enough.  I also lightly sanded the side of the glass that would bed in epoxy using sandpaper overlying some plate glass to give the glass some tooth.

I put some oil on the tip of some 1/4-inch screws and use nuts to lock them down with their ends just flush with the epoxy side of the steel platen.  This is to keep the holes clear of epoxy.  After cleaning both contact surfaces with lacquer thinner, a 2 X 9 X 1/4-inch piece of Pyroceram is bedded onto the face of the platen with an even layer of JB Weld.  I covered the face of the glass with a thin piece of plywood and clamped it with 4 spring clamps and allowed it to dry for a full 24 hours.  JB Weld has the highest heat tolerance of any commonly available epoxy, at least to my knowledge.  Ideally, you want to have a ledge under the glass liner to keep it from being knocked loose but mine has been stable for many years without a ledge.  Be sure to use blue Loc-Tite to attach the platen to the grinder chassis so it won’t vibrate loose but can be easily removed if needed.

In use, the Pyroceram platen is used like any other platen.  Since it is glass you should avoid slamming hard objects into it but otherwise it is tougher than nails.  I have ground hardened steels, tools, and other assorted materials and have yet to see any indication of wear or movement over the years, though the picture shows some transfer of paint from the back of the belt.  Pyroceram is some truly amazing stuff.  The piece I used cost $20.00, delivered!

The Table Fix Continue reading Modifying a Craftsman 2 X 42-inch Belt Sander For Tool Grinding

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