Machine Tools

I come from a family of frustrated engineers, do-it-yourselfers, and (as my dad puts it) “bad home repairers.” Consequently, I’ve been around woodworking and electrical tools since I was small, and have gained a fair amount of experience working with these. However, it wasn’t until college that I first got exposed to a true machine shop and to the wonderful world of metalworking.

Unfortunately, being exposed to metalworking tools led to me wanting metalworking tools – which is an expensive and heavy hobby. Especially since I’m likely to be moving in the next few years, my selection in machine tools is limited to smaller equipment, and equipment that doesn’t require 3-phase power. So far, I’ve managed to purchase the following tools:

Benchmaster Vertical Mill: The Benchmaster is a small Bridgeport-styled vertical mill. Unlike most bench top mills, the Benchmaster uses a knee for the Z-axis, rather than a moving headstock. Although this makes for a relatively stiff machine, it also makes the mill heavy, and limits the total headroom. It was sold in both vertical and horizontal models – I have the vertical model, but would be very interested in acquiring the parts to convert to a horizontal. For more information on the Benchmaster, check out the Benchmaster page at the excellent site.

So far, I’ve replaced the drive motor and belt, trammed in the machine, and installed an ER-25 collet set. I’ve also picked up an original Benchmaster rotary table – a good find, since most currently produced rotary tables are significantly taller, and eat away at the machine’s already-limited headroom. In the future, I want to completely restore the machine, add DROs and a back gearing system, and ideally convert it to dual-use manual/CNC like this guy did – it’s going to definitely take a little while before I can get there, though. In the meantime, however, I’ve got a decent little mill which is perfectly happy cutting everything from wood to 4140. I actually made a number of parts for my E90 on this machine – it’s not a Bridgeport, but it still does nice work.

Ames Toolmaker’s Lathe: I picked up this lathe from Swarthmore when the Engineering machine shop was renovated. It’s roughly a 6 x 22 1940’s model, and came with a huge assortment of collets, chucks and other tooling; it also has a 1 HP bidirectional motor and a continuously variable speed adjuster. It’s a beautiful piece of old machinery, and is in extremely good condition.

To date, I’ve replaced all the belts (including the previous leather main drive belt with a serpentine belt – a fun task), installed a quick-change tool post, and done my best to clean it up. Going forward, I’d like to build a new, smaller bench for it (with better coolant management than the current system of covering the nice wooden tabletop in gunk), replace the wiring (cloth insulation, yikes), and purchase more attachments for it.

Finally, I’d like to figure out some way around the machine’s lack of a lead screw. Originally, this machine was designed to use a “chase”-type mechanism for thread cutting (for more information, see the page). My lathe did not, unfortunately, come with one of these attachments, and they are essentially impossible to find. One possible alternative to this system that I’ve investigated is to create an “electronic leadscrew” – an electronic linkage between the headstock and the compound slide rest. This can either be done as part of a full CNC implementation, or as a standalone, “dumb” project. I’ve done some work on this through my Lathe Cutting Dynamics project – hopefully, I’ll be able to do more in the future.

Rockwell-Delta 14″ Bandsaw: After many hours of CraigsList surfing, I managed to find a 14″ Rockwell-Delta wood-metal bandsaw. The bandsaw uses a backgear system to switch blade speeds from a single high speed (in the range of 1500 inches/min) to multiple low speeds (between 60 and 300 ipm). Unfortunately, these bandsaws are susceptible to having a small pin in the transmission break, disabling the high-speed backgear – and my saw has this problem. However, since fixing this is going to require opening up the transmission completely (and since the saw currently is capable of cutting metal, which is what I’m really concerned about), it’s a fix that is going to have to wait.

Walker-Turner 900 Series Drill Press: Another of my Craigslist finds, I purchased this awesome drill press from an incredibly kind lady who was cleaning out her basement in preparation for selling her house. The press had belonged to her father-in-law and then her husband after him, and was clearly very well-loved – it had been beautifully pickled, with only minor rust on some of the handles.

I’m currently working (slowly) on cleaning this tool up and getting it in safe running shape. The press is in great mechanical shape – just needs the spindle cleaned and regreased (it’s quite sticky) – but the wiring has started to degrade from old age. I’m currently replacing the wiring harness, and then will begin tackling the mechanical components. Ultimately, I’d like to get it repainted along with the rest of my tools, get an E-stop and lockout installed, and build a nice base for it.

6 thoughts on “Machine Tools

  1. Hello,
    I have aquired a Benchmaster mill of the same model. I am looking to replace the rather beat up motor with a new one. Any suggestions on a particular brand and hp rating. Would a 1 hp work say 1750 rpm?

    • Hey Dylan,

      Congratulations on your purchase! The Benchmaster was designed for use with a 1725 RPM motor, so you should be good there. 1 HP is probably going to be overkill. The stock motor was probably a 1/3 HP, and Benchmaster only sold up to a 3/4 HP, as far as I know. I’ve got a 1/3 HP on mine, and have been happy so far for all of the light-duty work that I do.

      For more information on the Benchmaster, there’s some great resources online. Check out this page at Vintage Machinery, this page at, and finally take a look at the Benchmaster Yahoo! group. Enjoy!

  2. I was given a Benchmast mill that looks very similar to your. I was wondering what its value is? Thanks!

    • Hi Alex – value really depends on condition, configuration and accessories. I paid ~$700 on eBay for mine, which was probably slightly overvaluing it at the time. If you send me pictures, I’d be happy to give you a rough estimate & suggestions for where you might sell it.

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