The Tool that Changed my Life

It was thirty years ago this summer. I was thirteen years old visiting my grand parent’s house on my Mom’s side in Detroit, Michigan when I walked into my Grandpa’s garage and spotted this little drill press on top of his cabinet.

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It’s was a little German-made drill press. It had no manufacturer’s name on it, so I have no idea who made it, but I thought it was the coolest tool I ever saw. I played with it for a few minutes, and my Grandpa seeing I took a liking to it, gave it to me. I was stoked.

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My Grandpa was never really a woodworker. He was a mechanic who restored old cars like Ford Model T’s and Maxwell’s, so he had no use for the press. I just started to work with wood in my parent’s basement, so I was glad to have it.

A few days later, my Mom, Grandparents, and I went to the flea market. While there, I started hunting for more cool tools. I found some old wrenches and a Ohio Tool Co wooden razee fore plane that I still use to this day. The only money I had was a few bucks I saved up from my allowance of cutting the grass, so I bought all my tools dirt cheap. Nevertheless, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the start of my antique tool collecting.

As the months and years went by, I started buying more and more old tools. I’d buy planes, chisels, drills, saws and clean them up. As my tool collection grew, my woodworking skills developed right along with every tool I bought as I learned how to use it. I enjoyed the process of restoring old planes so much that I kept buying more of them and before I knew it, I had collected nearly 100 old tools by the time I was sixteen years old. I used to have white bookshelves in my parent’s basement filled with all my tools. My friends would come over, take a look, and asked what the hell was wrong with me.

At the height of my collecting I had over 600 tools. Then one day, I stared at all of it and decided that enough was enough. I took some of the tools I didn’t care much for and threw them on eBay. I watched the auctions end and realized that I enjoyed that process as well, so I threw more tools on eBay. Before I knew it, I was buying and selling tools on a regular basis.

Today, I’ve figured that I have bought, restored, and sold almost three thousand tools on eBay. It’s become a hobby within a hobby. Something that I would never have believed would have happened thirty years ago when my Grandpa gave me his little drill press.

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The Skinner Irrigation Co Hand Drilling Device

I’m not sure how unusual tools find me, but another has landed on my lap. This time it was an odd-looking drill press. I spotted it in a local antique shop and knew it was some sort of drill press with its flywheel and depth handle, but it was a drill press like I had never seen before. I could tell it was for drilling through pipe because of the claw like clamping pads that could wrap around pipe after adjusting the bottom arm.

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I brought the drill press home and after cleaning it up, I clamped one of my bar clamps across my workbench and attached the press to one end of the pipe.

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After studying the press a little bit, it dawned on me that I actually clamped the drill press upside down. The arm clamps down on top of the pipe, then the user turns the flywheel while pulling up the depth adjustment arm drilling a hole.

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I realized it was upside down because of a small level on the bottom of the press which guides the user to place the tool level.

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Here’s another view of the press in its rightful state.

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Luckily, there was a maker’s plate on the back. The tool was made by The Skinner Irrigation Co in Troy, OH. I googled the company name and found they were a turn of the century company that specialized in laying irrigation systems. Apparently this tool was used to tap into pipes to attach some sort of nozzles in a direct line with each other. Also, on the plate there was a patent number 893667 so I googled that as well. I found out that the tool was patented July, 21, 1908. You can read about it here. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/0893667.pdf\

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The bit that came with the tool looks like a broken threaded tap. You can see that the collar doesn’t have a chuck so this must be a very specialized tool to do one specific job.

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Who knows how many of these hand drilling devices were made, but I’m glad this one found me.

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Improving my branding iron

A few years ago I invested in a nice branding iron featuring my company logo and website underneath. I love the thing to death and have never regretted the pretty penny I spent on it. The only issue I ever had with it was user error. When my branding iron gets hot it works like a charm. The problem is that sometimes I think the iron is hot enough and when I go to press the iron to the wood, I get an imperfect burn. With the iron being free hand, there was no way for me to line back up the iron perfectly with what was already burned in the wood. I basically had one chance to get it right. When I made my kitchen cabinets a few summers ago, some of the burns turned out not so pretty.

Then last year I attended the Marketplace at The Woodworking In America conference in Cincinnati. There I met a guy who was selling branding irons that attached to a drill press. With his iron being in a fixed position, if you don’t burn enough of the logo into the wood, you simply lower the head back down and burn again. I knew that was my answer but my branding iron wasn’t equipped to be attached to a drill press. I had the idea of buying one of those old jigs that turns a hand drill into a drill press but they were $45 on amazon and I wasn’t sure if it would even work.

Then last week my wife and I attended the Springfield Antique Show Extravaganza in Springfield, Ohio. As soon as I walked into the show, I spotted this thing lying on the ground. The old man saw me looking at it and yelled out “ten bucks” to me. I yelled back “Sold!” I immediately walked it back to my truck with delight.

This drill press attachment was made for a 1/2″ drill with the collet being a 1 3/4″ in diameter. I knew I had to make some sort of spacer in order for it squeeze my 1/2″ branding iron shaft tightly. I grabbed some scrap poplar, drew a 1 3/4″ circle around and drilled a 1/2″ hole in the middle. I had my spacer made but needed to make it work so I had to cut in half so it would wrap around my branding iron shaft.

After a few minutes tinkering around, I got it to squeeze tightly on the branding iron and the collet of the drill press. It fitted, but now it needed to work.

I lined up the cutter head so that it was perpendicular to the base on all four sides with my small try square. Once it was square I tightened the collet wing nut with all my might.

 

Now it was time to see how this thing actually worked. I heated up the iron, grabbed a piece of scrap wood and gave it a go. What do you know, it worked. I pressed down, and checked to see how it burned. If it didn’t do a well enough job, I just lowered the arm and gave it a little more heat. I definitely got a more consistent burn versus free hand.

The only downside to the jig is the wood that I used as a spacer for the collet started to burn at the bottom. Now I’m not sure what to do about this. Since I won’t being using the iron all that much, the wood should last a long time. Plus it was super simple to make and would be a snap to make a new one if the this one burns up too much. I think I’ll just let it be.