A Place for Machines

We often talk about having a proper balance between the use of hand and machine tools. I use both in my work, but today I’ll tell you about a recent find, a machine, that will be a great addition to the studio. Not all machines are appropriate for the type of work I do, but I was ecstatic when Federico, a kind and generous fellow woodworker, told me about a vintage Davis & Wells boring machine that had just been listed for sale. Well, here it is! This one arrived on a pallet, worn and rusty, and in need of some serious attention, but I've cut slot mortises on similar Davis & Wells machines before, so I knew it was going to be worth my time and attention.

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These old cast iron machines are well built, heavy, stable, and nearly vibration-free. I was able to spend some time this summer converting it to function as a slot mortiser. I cleaned it up, neutralized the rust, replaced the bearings, motor and starter, and gave it some new paint. It's not an historic restoration by any means, but this machine has been brought back to life and promises to perform well into the future, long after I have served my purpose here.

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After getting the machine purring along, I needed to find some cutters. The end mills I found are made for cutting metal, but since they run straight and true and cut with a very keen edge, they are perfect for slot mortising in wood. The range of sizes allows me to choose the one appropriate for the size of the joint I am making. The smaller end mills I can use while free-handing the cut, but I'll reserve the larger sizes for the day I find (or build) an X-Y table to control the movement of the work across the cutter. More on that… another day.

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I've already done a number of test runs, and I find the more I use this machine, the more I like it. It is oh, so very quiet! That means a lot when doing this kind of work every day. Sliding this piece of yellow birch back and forth across the table, I can feel the nuances of the wood through my fingers as the cutter sends its crisply cut shavings to the floor. That's the payoff... yes, it was definitely worth the effort!

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