A New Start(er) for the Myford

My Myford ML7 lathe came with the motor and a plug for a light hardwired into a metal electrical box with standard household switches. It was also mounted out of sight around the side of the stand. For machine tools, this is not the best arrangement since one could easily (and often) turn on the lathe when aiming for the light or vice versa. There was also nothing like an emergency stop. I could stop the spindle with the lath clutch but not the motor and drive belt. A less likely danger would be for the lathe to restart after a power failure if I forgot to turn it off after the power went.

The proper solution for all of this is a magnetic motor starter made for the purpose. I bought a relatively inexpensive one from a local supplier and searched the internet for wiring instructions. The instructions intended for wiring one from scratch were intimidating to say the least. I set it aside for later.

After an somewhat related household DIY success (replaced the contactor in our A/C unit), I was inspired to have another look. Fortunately, this time I found simple instructions that covered the basic connections I needed to make. I figured I was most of the way there!

Getting the box wired was easily accomplished and the test run produced no release of magic blue smoke or other disasters. Getting the wires properly secured to the box and the box mounted to the stand turned into a real project. Admittedly, some of this was because I didn’t want to move the lathe or remove the previously installed drawer unit to improve access. This resulted in drilling and tapping mounting holes while sitting underneath the workbench, an activity many model railroaders are familiar with.

After a bunch of fiddling, fitting, fettling and faffing around, I finally got it all done to my satisfaction. I now have a prominent big red button to stop the lathe just like the milling machine has. Hopefully I will never need it on an emergency basis.

Right On the Button

In my last post regarding the saga of the part of many attempts, I mentioned my intent to try an “old school” technique for rounding off the ends of the part. The obvious approach would be to center up the part on the rotary table and mill the ends. This has challenges. The small size of the part makes any error in centering very obvious, holding on to the part while still getting in there with an end mill is tricky, and so on.

I was especially leery of messing things up at the final stage for what is a cosmetic feature so I elected to go with hand filing. I am no master of the file so just marking out the curves and having at it was not going to produce a satisfactory result. Enter the filing button. Filing buttons are a form of filing guide that provides something to file up to centered on a hole. Other filing guides can be used for more elaborate repetitive shapes but all I needed was a circle. One usually makes the guide out of a harder material so that the workpiece goes well before the edge of the guide.

I made a pair of buttons out of O-1 drill rod since that is much harder than brass. I could have heat treated the results to get something that the file could not scratch but this is a one shot use and I wanted to avoid extra wear on my file. I made a pair with matching center and hole so that I could clamp the forks of the workpiece in the vise and not bend things.

After dropping and finding the button parts several times, it was just a matter of filing away all the bits that didn’t look like a rounded end. It probably took me three times as long to make the buttons as it did to use them but I found it relaxing to use files because there was little to no chance of a catastrophe. I am pleased with the end product and even enjoyed making it. Onward (finally) to the next part!

Machining Over Macramé

After various delays both actual and mental, I have gotten the latest attempt at The Problematic Part(tm) past the previous failure points. Here is the rogues gallery of most of the attempts (I might have pitched one or two) with the success to date on the right.

The items can be roughly categorized as misread drawing, mysteriously misaligned, utter brain fart and so far, so good.

I am actually looking forward to the final step for this piece because I am going to try out an old school manual technique for rounding the end.


I have been continuing sporadic work on the beam engine with today being a relatively quick wee part: a bushing to hold the crank shaft onto the crank. Given that this part was about 1/”8 in diameter and 5/16″ long, it is one of the smallest things I have attempted.

My ML7 lathe was supplied with an excellent ER25 collet set that mounts directly on the lathe spindle. I thought it would be useful but I am still growing in appreciation of just how much. Holding onto the 1/4″ round brass bar I started with was no problem but niether was holding the finished 9/64″ barrel so I could turn off the remains of parting off. And, as is the special property of collets, it did so concentrically as far as I can tell. Which is just as well since I needed to finish reaming out the center hole from that side.

I find this especially exciting since this is getting into the range where I could turn bushing, bearings and the like for 1/4″ scale railroad models if I need to.

Beam Engine Crankshaft

Having finished the crank, the obvious next step is the crankshaft. This will link the flywheel to one end of the beam and introduce the first interesting motion to the project. It is also the start of the wee small bits, at least according to my experience. Learning experiences were anticipated.

First I tackled the end that goes on a pin sticking out of the crank. I again used the method of milling the piece out of a larger bit of stock with the extra used to hold on to. In a flash of enlightenment, I realized I could up the game a bit by using my small toolmaker’s vise to hold the stock. I could then rotate the part 90 degrees without unclamping the stock.

The major work was done with the vise clamped to the rotary table. The fun bit was getting the appropriate spot centered on the table. I did this by center punching the spot, deploying my fancy new coaxial indicator which came with a tip for just such a purpose and gently tapping the vise around until it was centered. I then clamped it down and rechecked to make sure I didn’t shift it. Surprisingly, I also managed to get the thing square in the x-y plane to within 30 arc minutes. (I needed to know where to start and stop the rotation of the table to be planar with the straight sides of the piece.)

After I got the main body of the piece shaped and drilled, I needed to drill a hole in the flat end for the shaft. This was easily done by clamping the vise on its side in the mill vise. I found the edges by using a drill blank because there wasn’t room to get my center finder in there next to the vise jaws. I know that things are at right angles because the toolmakers vise has precision ground sides for just this sort of thing. I may have committed a sin by clamping on the jaws of the vise, though.

The last operation was just reclamping the piece wide side up and skimming off the back side. This was easy in this case because there are two parallel sides unlike the crank.

Next, I made up the crank shaft itself which was a simple matter of threading one end of a 3/32″ brass rod and cutting it to length. For the exercise, I used the lathe to square and shorted to final length the cut end. Here is the piece to date. I still need to do the other end which has a fork to go around the beam. I added my machinist scale to the photo for a size comparison.

Fits and Starts

I have managed to get crank attached to the crankshaft. A simple operation of you do it correctly or, in my case, not so much.

The drawings call for a press fit. This is where the shaft is about .001″ larger than the hole. You usually obtain it by using an “under” reamer, in this case a .124″ reamer to go with a .125″ shaft (O-1 drill rod). I had no such reamer and my choices were order a complete over/under set which seemed expensive or buy a single reamer for double the per/unit price of the set and a trip across town. So, of course, I opted for the third choice, use the nearest drill I had.

That turned out to be a #31 drill at .120″. Surely 5 thousandths is close enough for me to press a shaft in. Technically, I proved this to be true. Now if you specify that the shaft in question should not acquire a bend in it during the process then, no, I did not. It would not line up the holes in the flywheel bearing which is kind of the point.

I knocked the erstwhile shaft out with a punch and hammer and ordered the o/u reamer set like I should have done. I lucked out in that I did not have to remake the crank so I figured I should quit while I was ahead.

Here is the properly press fitted crankshaft in place.

Next I need to drill and tap for a set screw on the flywheel hub and then I think I will do the bits to connect the crank to the beam so I can see some bits moving together.

Cranking It Up

I may be getting the hang of this milling thing. Today I got most of the way through making the crank for the beam engine. This was two setups and more tool changes than it probably should have been but I am pleased with the result. I just need to mill off the back of the part to separate it from the block of stock I used as a handle.

It looks like it should even if it may not exactly match the drawings. I realized that the only things that really matter are that the two holes are parallel, the correct size and the correct distance apart. Everything else is mostly shaping things to resemble the cast part a full size engine would have. As long at things are symmetrical, nobody will notice if the end radii are a bit too large or small.

I also improved my finding of the center of the rotary table by using a new gadget, a coaxial centering dial indicator. This device gets chucked in the mill spindle and you center on the hole while the mill is spinning (at low RPM). This is actually fun as opposed to the usual dial indicator spinning holder that makes you keep having to move around to see the readings.

The other improvement which is much less photogenic was the acquisition of some drill blanks. I used a 3/32″ dill blank chucked in the mill to center up the part on the table center for the second setup so I could round the small end. I previously just used a reversed drill bit and I don’t think it produced as accurate results. The drill blank is both more rigid and has not flutes to mess with the alignment.

Cylinder Head

I finished up the cylinder head this afternoon. I had long abandoned my plan to drill the remaining holes on the cylinder since they are all varieties of clearance anyway. Instead, I used a 1/16″ drill blank to center the piston rod hole previous drilling on the lathe under the mill spindle and worked from there. As long as I got the relative placement of the holes correct, all would be well. Or almost, anyway.

I used my milling pallet in the vise and clamped the head face down on a small square of hardboard. The hardboard is flat enough and allowed me to drill through holes without messing up the shiny surface of the pallet.

I had a bit of a bad moment when I went to test fit the head on the cylinder block and the screws would not fit in the alleged clearance holes. Only then did I remember that I needed bigger holes for the M2.5 screws I was using. Back under the mill and a bit of hole size increasing and it was done. Here is the head fastened to the top of the cylinder block.

Since I had some more time and had a head of steam up (hah), I took care of a couple of small tasks I had been putting off. I shortened the machine screw that holds the flywheel bearing to the main body so it no longer projects into the flywheel’s running space. I also cut and cleaned up a suitable length of 1/16″ drill rod for a shaft for the beam. After a bit of assembly, here is the current state of the engine. Flywheel shaft is still pending so the flywheel is just propped in place.

It Has Been Remade

While waiting for paint to dry, I got started on a second instance of the beam engine cylinder only this time with less broken taps embedded. I consider this a triumph of will over fear of failure. I also suspect that the diligent work on the lathe drawer project concealed a bit of anxiety about the second attempt. With the drawers done, my anxiety was left place to hide so off I went before some other project arose!

This time around, I exercised extra care about the depth of the M2.5 blind holes in the cylinder end. I purchased a set of M2.5 taps (taper, plug and bottoming) and used the two extremes to get my thread depth without any optimism about hole depth. All was completed without incident although I think I could use a somewhat smaller tap wrench for this work. The one I have will hold the tap but I fear its weight threatens a break all by itself. I will have to do some research.

I resorted to marking the required depth on the taps with a marker. This seemed simpler than counting revolutions of the tap. 🙂

The cylinder is complete with the exception of plugging the two small holes in the side of the cylinder. These were the result of drilling through the valve into the cylinder bore. Those internal holes are wanted, the outside ones are not.

Next up is drilling the matching holes in the cylinder cover.