Monday, April 25, 2011

Adventures in Machine Land (II)

Boy I've been having some entertainment recently in the world of machinery!

I'll start with the good news: the jointer tables are all done. I took them down to Connecticut to have the grinding work undertaken, on the advice of one of the larger sharpening shops in the area. The company in Connecticut, Marena Industries, has been in business for about 45 years and specializes in grinding and machinery re-building. I received a call last week saying that my jointer tables and fence were all done, and that the total machining bill, at $100/hour, amounted to $1130. I had told them to let me know if the bill was heading over the $1000 line, and John, the shop foreman had forgotten to call me. So he said the bill was a $1000 even, no worries. That was most decent of them.

I got there and met the owner, Mr. Marena himself, and boy was he keen to talk about machinery. He gave me an impromptu tour of the factory and in rapid bursts of speech, told me all kinds of stories about how they rebuild machines. Not only were my jointer tables tidily strapped to a pallet with corrosion-inhibiting paper wrapped around, but they gave me gifts of a clock and a measuring tape! I really like to meet people who are totally into what they do, and it is a bit of a rare experience, sad to say.

Imagine that! Not only did they do the work professionally to a high standard, and did the work on the schedule agreed upon, but they gave me some gifts! I was astounded, yet there was once a day, I think (I hope), when such things were more commonplace occurrences. I highly recommend this company to anyone in the New England area needing to get a machine re-conditioned. The tables look awesomely flat and clean, so I was pleased.

Here's the loading of the tables back into my truck:

I got the tables back to the shop, and with a little help unloaded them off the truck. I didn't get a chance to do any more work on the jointer though until Sunday, as the bookcase project was requiring my undivided attention.

On Sunday, while I was waiting for shellac to dry, I thought I would re-fit the new double-threaded rods to their related cast iron wedge blocks. All was going well until I noticed that one of the newly-made threaded adjusters didn't fit my spanner:

As you can see, the adjuster rod has a pair of machined flats in the middle, each pair at 90˚out of (rotational) phase to one another. In the above case, neither pair of flats was the correct size. On another two rods, one of the pairs of flats was at the correct dimension, while the other pair was too fat. That was a bit annoying, and I wondered if the local machinist I had make the rods was plagued by moments of inattentiveness at times. No big deal - at least the flats are over-width and thus easy enough to correct.

I was grumbling though because this sort of minor thing slows down the rebuild process by at least a day. And with three adjusters needed re-working, I couldn't place either table back on the machine. They look nice on the floor at this time, and I can push some wood over them and make little jointing sounds while imagining those nice straight boards....

It got worse though: on one corner I discovered a problem with the height of the holes between the cast sliding wedge (to the right of the picture) and the mounting tab on the sliding chassis:

I'll zoom on in to the spot where the rod meets the tab so you can see what I mean:

The rod is about 1/16" too high where it meets the tab. So, either the tab hole is too low, or the wedge's corresponding hole is too high, or each is out by some intermediate amount, or the sliding block is too thick on the bottom. I considered that it was possible that the wedges had gotten mixed up with one another at some point in the past, so I tried swapping in the one with an identical configuration from the diagonally opposite corner, to no avail.

I have to conclude that the machine came out of the factory this way in 1943 unless the cast wedge block on that corner is some sort of replacement from a later machine. I think this is unlikely, as the wedge blocks are not typically a part that would fail. So, Oliver's quality control was not exactly awe-inspiring at that juncture of history at least. How did they manage to drill 7 of the 8 perfectly, but get one of them so wrong?

I am also realizing that the sliding wedge, rod and tab had been connected before I took the tables off...the only way they can connect at all to one another is if the adjuster screw goes in a bit atilt, which has the effect that, as the adjuster is turned, the wedge block becomes cranked up slightly at an angle and the adjuster begins to bind. While a fixing bolt can torque that wedge block back down onto the sub-chassis, it creates an area of stress and makes the adjuster itself extremely difficult to turn. I seem to remember that rod being tighter than the other ones, and now I know why. Damn!

And come to think of it - how did the person who last took this machine apart (I can tell by the bolts which were newer replacements) not notice this issue? Or did they notice and chose just to crank it all together, onward and upward? Jeez...

The only good solution, as far as I can see, will be to take the cast wedge to a machine shop, have the threaded hole for the adjuster rod plugged, and a new hole drilled and tapped at the correct height. So, there we go: more delay to getting the jointer back together.

I was feeling a bit frustrated, partly at the delay, and partly at the problems with the adjuster rods machined incorrectly by the local shop, and the factory piece on the machine being misaligned. Does anyone give a shit about the work they do? I could go on a bit of a rant here, but I'll curb my enthusiasm for the time being.

On to the Rockwell Delta 15-127 Radial Ram drill press. More entertainment to be had there folks. I took the quill and spindle down to another local machine shop ( a different one than had made the adjuster rods mentioned above) and asked them to pull the bearings out of the quill, clean up the spindle which had some obvious worn areas and told them I would meanwhile work on obtaining new bearings for the quill. In the three weeks (!) since, the shop has accomplished precisely zero work on my parts. This morning they finally pulled the bearings out after I made a phone call asking what was going on. So, they're not quite dazzling me so far with prompt attention to my stuff. I remain patient and hopeful of good outcomes.

On the bearing front, I have been on the equivalent of an Icelandic saga in trying to track down bearings for that quill. A reader gave me a tip on a company located in Illinois who are apparently the go-to choice for some of the folks on the Old Woodworking Machines Forum. They are called Accurate Bearings, the contact person there for these sorts of matters is Lynn. She was pleasant to deal with but got absolutely nowhere in trying to locate the bearings for the quill, which are Norma XH 179 bearings.

From a page at the Stamford Historical Society:

"The Norma-Hoffman Bearings Corp. grew from its small beginnings in 1911 in the Bronx to become an important manufacturing firm after relocating in Stamford in 1924. At its facility on Hamilton Avenue, Norma-Hoffman turned out bearings for airplane engines, instruments, battle-ships, cruisers, submarine chasers, and for anti-aircraft guns. It had contracts to supply such large companies as Boeing, Lockheed, and Pratt & Whitney. The company pioneered the development of many distinctive types of bearings and was one of the top firms in its field. By 1941 Norma-Hoffman employed some 1,200 people in its factory and research lab. In 1969 Norma-Hoffman was bought by the German company FAG (Fischer Aktien Gesellschaft, translated Fisher Joint Stock Company) which ten years later moved the production of bearings elsewhere." (emphasis mine)

So, given the 1969 absorption of the firm into the German conglomerate, I can date my drill press as likely being pre-1969 in manufacture, though it's hard to know how long the stock of those bearings lasted at Rockwell.

I gave the part number to Lynn at Accurate, and she couldn't find a thing. Nada. When I told her the approximate measurements I had jotted down of the bearing's dimensions, she was slightly incredulous, as they were so odd in comparison to other bearings. She checked with a friend of hers in the industry who had an old Norma bearing catalog, and nothing turned up there either. A mystery of significant bearing on my situation, if you'll excuse the word play.

So, I elected to order the 'factory' bearings from Delta, which were a tad pricey at $70.91/each (and I needed two of them), but I figured they were unusual little gippers and perhaps I had no other option. I also ordered a bearing for the top drive pulley, which was priced at a scintillating $151. Again, this bearing was an oddity, so I figured I had little choice.

The expensive single bearing was not in stock, and is not scheduled to be in stock until July. Great. The other two bearings were in stock, just two of them, and were shipped out relatively promptly. I got them in the mail yesterday. I was surprised to open the package though and discover that what I had received were a couple of fairly standard looking bearings, nothing at all like the ones in the quill. Worse, they were made in China, which tells me something about the price I paid. Let's see, what cost, I would guess, $2.50 in China morphs into $70.91 here in the US. Hmmm.

I scoped out the bearing number on the rubber seals, and googled it, finding that these exact bearings were available for, oh, about $10.00. There I was thinking I was supporting a domestic company, figuring I was obtaining some dusty old stock off the warehouse shelves, and instead I get hosed by 700%. I was outraged.

I called the company that sold me the bearings and said I would be sending them back, unopened in the original packages. I also canceled the order for the other bearing. They are charging me a 25% re-stocking fee. Okay, whatever. I then called Delta to complain about the price gouging and customer service duly recorded my comments. The customer service guy also told me, somewhat helpfully, that the mark up on some of the parts is 300% within the company, from the supply end. A package of drill spindle, quill, and bearings for my drill press, which retails at $954, is costing Delta a bit over $300 to buy. Thought I'd share that with the world, as some small measure of recompense. I have learned since that such info is considered, how did the area service center manger put it, 'internal and confidential information'. I can see there will be a meeting at headquarters and staff that need to be chastised I guess. I'm not a fan of Delta at this point, to say the least.

The Chinese bearings were not exactly top quality sort of things, ABEC 7's or that sorta kit - just ordinary bearings, 5202RS's. So I started looking to see what was available in a higher quality bearing, preferably not made in China. Nothing against the Chinese, and after all they are a nation fully capable of putting satellites in orbit and building stealth fighters, but the relationship between manufacturers here who outsource to China, and the producers there seems to mean, for some reason, that we have a market now flooded with total crap for the most part. Perhaps the Chinese keep the good stuff for themselves and sell us crap - I wouldn't blame them for that I suppose. The white man was happy to trade plastic beads to the Native Americans for valuable furs and things like that. What goes around comes around perhaps.

People here seem happy to buy cheap stuff, and don't often complain if that $9.99 item craps out shortly after they get it out of the package, so surprise, surprise, that's now the bulk of what we have in the stores. While many appear to harbor suspicion about high prices, it is in fact usually the cheap stuff that has the highest profit margins, though in the case of that Chinese-made bearing, retailing here at $70.91, some sort of insane greed or disconnected pricing policy is at work. I blame Delta for this, not the Chinese. Delta - actually part of the Porter Cable group, now owned by Stanley/Black and Decker, soon to be part of Death Star Inc. ®. It's hard to keep up with the shell game frankly.

Anyway, my search continued. It's a heavy burden to bear I suppose. I connected with a fellow named Larry at Action Bearing, based in Boston. I asked him to, uh, bear with me, and told him my sob story and then gave him the 5202 part number off the Chinese bearing. He wanted to know the original bearing number to see if he could find it's replacement. I told him it appeared to be unobtainuim, that others had tried and failed, but he insisted he had the resources to find it. I didn't have the number at hand so I had to call the machine shop and get the machinist to look at the quill and see what the bearing number was.

With the stock part info, Norma XH 179 in hand, I called Larry back a few hours later. To my astonishment, he knew something about that bearing right away and said he would do some digging to see what he could locate. To my surprise once again, he got back to me the same afternoon. He had located some of these bearings in Pennsylvania somewhere. $66/each. I said "two please". I'll have them in my hands in about a week or so.

These are really odd bearings, being a hybrid of metric and imperial inch measures. The outer diameter of the bearing is 35mm, while the the inner race is 0.6355". The outer race of the bearing is 10mm wide, and the inner race is extended, measuring a curious 1.102". Why the race is extended is a mystery. Why the mix of size standards? Basically the bearing is a special creature of a company which wants to produce a unique bearing for no other reason than to compel the purchase of future bearing replacements from the same company. Not a novel trick in the game of business, but annoying all the same. Whether this is the bearing company's doing or Rockwells', I have no idea. In the end, with the company long out of business, these sort of 'minor' parts, without which the machine is not going to function, can make it almost impossible, or very expensive, to maintain/repair/rebuild a machine properly. It's a strategy of short term thinking once again on the company's part, and I shake my tiny fist!!

Then today, while driving to the shop, my truck suddenly quit on me and wouldn't start, necessitating a tow back home. Possibly a problem in the fuel system. Me and machines are having some special moments in recent weeks. I laugh. I cry.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way today.


  1. Sorry to see you running the gauntlet there, son. Singing that hit song, "My Way', sometimes comes at a price.

  2. Well Dennis, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances I guess. In the end the machines will be well sorted and I'll know exactly what I have, and that's worth something.

    I mean, the choices boil down to buying old machines that were well made but require fixing, and the struggle to find parts that goes with that, or new cheaply-made machines with pre-planned obsolescence built right in (and often with un-fixable parts), or having the resources to outfit the shop with a stable of Martin and Hofmann quality level machines. I don't have that last option at the moment, so I go with old cast iron lumps.


  3. I know exactly what you are saying about the gamble with the old equipment. The world of the Northfield planer, we have already discussed, and almost everything else is a mix of old getting on to ancient like me, both American made and Japanese machinery, all disassembled and pretty much restored once in my possession. The Northfield has the cutter head more than a few thousandths off from left to right with the distance from the center plate between the infield and outfeed tables, not a very big problem, but disappointing that it surely left the factory that way. I have a Porter 12" jointer, a similar configuration to your machine, guess I was lucky that the table adjusting blocks all lined up with the threaded stud positions, but the fence stability is a poor arrangement. My experience is that there tends to be a fair amount of variation in quality with the old gear. My over one hundred year old Silver Manufacturing bandsaw out of the great state of Ohio, and one Japanese table saw with a very useful tenoning attachment, are the ones that I would want to lash myself to if going down with the ship.

  4. In fact, it's the higher quality products from Chinese factories that are export grade. Such items are not readily available in the domestic market unless as overruns or seconds.


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