Saturday, January 23, 2021

…what I'm up to so far in 2021


The new Bridgeport


2020 ended on kind of a down note--my octogenarian mom took a spill, and I ended up taking about 8 weeks off to travel back to the midwest to help her recover, and ultimately bring her back to PA to stay with us for a while. The pandemic made all of this much tougher, but I won't complain because so many people are hurting so much worse. I'm in good health and no one close to me is dead or dying of Covid, so I feel very lucky.

In any case, these travails doubled my current lead time for planes, to about 6-7 months, so that's something to keep in mind if you're planning on ordering. So far, all my customers have been incredibly understanding and nice about this--yet another thing to be grateful for.

2021, on the other hand, started with a bang! I've been looking for a mill for a couple years, and I finally got one in the first week of January. Everything just fell into place very quickly.

The mill (pictured above) is a mid 1960s Bridgeport J-head. Most unusually, it has a single phase motor, which makes life a lot easier. It also has DRO and came with a vise, full set of collets, and a bunch of accessories. Quite a deal!

Having a mill will allow me to make more of my irons and hardware in-house, and will speed up production of my planes a little bit. It's not a magic bullet--no machine is, for planemaking requires a ton of handwork no matter how you slice it--but it will help me towards my goal of getting more planes (like plows and fillisters) into production. It's also going to be a lot fun for me: I worked my way through grad school in a machine shop, and a Bridgeport J-head was the first mill I ever used…so this is a bit like having an old friend in the shop.

Moving the mill--which weighs about 1900 pounds--was kind of an adventure. I called up some professional machine riggers, and the only quote I got was for over two grand to move the machine 55 miles down the highway. Forget it. I rented a truck from Enterprise and a drop-deck trailer from Sunbelt, and moved it myself. The key was to use a pry bar and shims to gradually raise the mill up on 2 x 4 blocks, then slide pieces of black iron pipe underneath. On a level surface, it's easy to roll the mill on pipe.

The next time  try this, I'll get a come-along--it would have, ahem, come in handy for non-level surfaces. I was able to use a ratcheting strap for the same purpose, but the real thing would have been nice.


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