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5 Bears: Essential Resources
Rather than more links, this page is devoted to resources of any type which have impressed me as almost "must haves" for a home machine shop. Quite a bit of this stuff is fairly specialized... for example, if not into radial engines, one book in particular will be meaningless. Tools that are included have impressed me greatly with being either an exceptional value, or having great performance, or happiest of all, both! This page is definitely a work in progress, and will be augmented as time permits.

Books and Magazines

Machine Shop Trade Secrets by James Harvey. In my nearly 20 years as a purely amateur machinist, I have seen dozens of books devoted to the art. The majority are either too specialized, too "industrial", meaning they will teach you how to run a 30" engine lathe or a 20 ton press, but not much else, too generic, too "whatever." Jim's book is one of the perhaps 6 "keepers".

What Jim has done is compiled into a very readable volume his lifetime of experience as a Tool Room machinist, which is basically what we home shop guys aspire to be. A tool room man can be called upon to do any number of manual machining tasks, and do them well, from turning and milling, to grinding, prototype and 1-off work, etc.

I cannot think of any other career or pursuit which is so filled with excellence which is gained by experience. What I mean by this: As one gains experience, a mental filing cabinet is created in which are stored dozens if not hundreds of "tricks of the trade". It is fascinating, as a relative neophyte with a few years of practical experience, to watch a master execute his work. He will do things which to him are part of his arsenal of tricks, but which to you are new and revelatory. Example - "Wow, I didn't know you could center round stock in a mill with an edge finder!" To the master, it is second nature; to the observer; it has now become a technique to add to his own arsenal.

What Jim has done is to empty his mental filing cabinet and put it to print for us, illustrated when necessary with excellent photos. I can only imagine the months if not years it took him to jot these down, probably as they were executed, and them expand and compile them into this volume.

James on a sweet latheThe book is layed out by chapters which correspond to machining issues and tools. For example, the first chapter, entitle Work Fast, is devoted to time-saving tricks of the trade. Another, entitled Making 'em Look Good, deals with achieving excellent finishes and eye-pleasing product. An example of the latter - Use a flat diamond lap to hone cutting tools. Jim then goes into detail on just how this is done. It took me 5 years to figure this one out... why accumulate these "tricks" the hard way, when Jim has done much of this for us?

Another example: I have little experience with end mills that I consider to be "exotic". Like many home-shop guys, I do a lot of edge milling of aluminum plate, such as cleaning up the end of a band-saw cut bar of 3/8" thick aluminum. Into the vise it goes, and a standard end mill flank is applied to the end of the bar. It usually works. Sometimes the finish isn't great. Jim recommends a high-helix end mill for this particular operation. I'll need to give it a try!

Not all chapters will necessarily be applicable to you at your given moment. If you do not have a surface grinder, then the grinding tips will not help. But someday, you may very well get that small grinder, and when you do, this book will save you many months if not years of potential frustration.

The tips are fantastic, the personal anecdotes as well. I can without reservation recommend this book as a "must have" for nearly every machinist who aspires to excellent work. Well done Jim, and thank you!


Model Engine BuilderMike Rehmus, the editor of Model Engine Builder magazine, has posted to the guestbook several times. I was (and still am) a longtime fan of Strictly IC magazine. This new magazine has taken the reins of this niche hobby. I received my first copy a few days ago and still haven't gone through it in detail, but what I have seen is very impressive. The quality is evident; great layout, color, and above all content. If you like engines in miniature, may I strongly suggest you support Mike and his crew with a subscription. There really is no other alternative other than to hope for the occasional IC engine article to pop up within one of the current crop of home engineering publications.

After going through the premier issue, I am even more convinced this editorial team has done a fantastic job, and the magazine is well worth supporting.


Strictly IC Magazine This is the original shop mag devoted to the miniature engine enthusiast. It had a lengthy run, but ultimately was ended as the publisher, Bob Washburn, decided to retire from what must have been a pretty hectic schedule. The back issues are a treasure trove of tricks, tips, techniques, plans, and resources. I cannot concieve of any other published source which discuss in detail how to machine perfect miniature cast iron piston rings, or how to make spark plugs threaded 8-32. If you are a serious hobbyist, I would strongly recommend the entire set of back issues. You will refer to them continually for years, and it is a small investment relative to the knowledge you will gain.

Lathe Tooling

The Aloris style QC (Quick Change) wedge toolpost. Indispensible in my opinion. There are many makers of this type of system, but as far as I know, the Aloris system was the first, hence all of the competitors are advertised as being compatible with Aloris. This system allows you to essentially throw away your old tool post, packing shims, and other garbage used to take a tool tip to center height, and apply it to the necessary center height. Instead, each tool is loaded into a tool holder, a block of steel with an adjusting nut. Once set, the tool + holder can be removed, and when replaced, it will be in the same position as it was before. Hugely rigid, extremely convenient, effective. There is another, earlier system known as a piston toolpost. It looks similar but is not as good as the wedge.

The system comes in different sizes, starting with AXA as the smallest, and progressing to BXA, CXA, etc. For the vast majority of home lathes, the AXA or BXA will be correct. Measure before you order. Once you have started with a particular size, you'll want to accumulate tool holders in that size only.

The toolpost is mounted on your top slide. There are two stations for mounting a tool holder. The station pictured is typical for boring operations. The other station, on the left side of this post, is for turning and facing ops. Along with a single toolpost, you'll need an assortment of tool holders. You can never have too many of these! There are Asian clone import toolholders which are not as nice as genuine Aloris, but they seem to do the job well.

Right: You can make a handy rack from $10 worth of steel sheet... weld a series of upright stems which fit into the dovetail of the tool holders. Angle them for a nice apearance and easy access. My own rack has boring tools to the left. The right side of the rack starts with facing tools, then proceeds to turning tools. I'll say it again, you can't have too many toolholders! The best are those with a groove in the holder to accept round-shanked tools; these can be used for both square and round shanks and are thus more flexible in use. Load about 6 of these with your favorite turning and boring tools, set the center height, and consider them permanent. Another 3 or 4 are "swappers". Leave the adjusting nut loose, so you can center the tool height quickly. Use these for specialized or ground HSS bits.


Left: It only took me a decade to make this tool. Make one today! Centering round stock in the lathe can be irritating and tedious, as one must set up a dial indicator, apply it to the stock, and rotate the lathe by hand. An Adjust-Tru style of chuck, as made by Buck, Bison, and others, are terrific devices, but yield their best traits when using the adjustment feature to really get the stock to zero.

What is it? It is a junker tool holder, in this case a cheap knurling tool which never worked. I drilled and tapped the body of the tool holder and mounted this plunger-style DTI. With the round stock in your 4-jaw, or adjust-tru chuck, slap this onto your toolpost. Since it is already set to center height, you can use the cross-slide to feed the DTI into the work. Adjust away!

Very quick to use and much more convenient than setting up a DTI in the normal manner. A 0.0005" indicator is a good all-around choice, and due to available travel, is easier to use without overrunning the indicator's range. . For exceptionally accurate work, replace it with a 0.0001" indicator.


Right: A miniature boring tool. The vast majority of my work is on the small and fine side, and I looked long and hard for a boring tool which can be used with miniscule starting holes, yet had the rigidity and sharpness necessary for decent work. Enter the Circle Machinery Company mini-bar you see here. It has a 1/4" shank of carbide, and in this size, the carbide shank is not a wallet-emptyer as it can be with larger-shanked tools.

Carbide shanks are very desireable in boring tools. They are far more rigid, meaning they flex less than steel shanks, and produce a more accurate and superior finish.

This little guy takes 0.160" triangular inserts which are razor sharp and have an excellent geometry. The minimum bore is probably on the order of 0.300". Anything less, and the tool's insert pocket body will not enter the starter hole. For the bar: MSC stock number = 59869289. Inserts: 59873372. My favorite small boring tool, by far. Perfect for ball race borings and other fine work. Don't let the price shock you, a promo set is often available with the bar and 10 inserts for a modest price. Keep an eye open for sale flyers with this tool.