milling about

Finally finally, finally got the Taig mill up and running again.
The only defective part has been me (ta da!).

One of my laments, before it was all disassembled and packed away for the (long ago) move to my new domicile, was the lack of workholding devices that were provided with the machine. The secondary market was also a bit thin at the time. But it's a machine tool; you're supposed to make things with it.

Taig's T-slots on the milling bed are not the same size as most other mini-mills; even a 1/4-20 threaded rod is really too big to use. Taig favours 10-32 hardware and (for the mill) includes only a couple of elongated, flat steel nuts. Injudicious use of the cap screws when tightening up will cause scoring of the T-slot bottom. A more elegant solution is demanded.

Certainly, there are 3rd parties that now sell accessory clamping kits for the Taig. However, it's time to make something (see end of 1st paragraph) for it myself.

Once the vertical column was trammed, I dug out the ER16 collets and the largest milling cutter I could find in the boxes (3/8"). It turns out I have several larger ones but they wouldn't do the job any faster in this case. The Sowa toolmaker's screwless vise was installed and squared up.

A 1/2" square bar of aluminium (6061?) was inked and scribed to the dimensions required, then clamped in the vise on top of two parallels. Flakes flew off the sides as I carved a 1/8" x 1/4" step into each long face of the stock. This produces a nice sliding fit in the T-slot while still not jamming on every strand of swarf.

Tomorrow's task is to mark out the holes, drill, tap and de-function-ise the bottom threads to prevent the screws from passing completely through. Then I'll mark off and slice the individual T-nuts from the bar. Later batches will be sized for both the lathe saddle T-slots and the front lip of the mill.


a measure of treasure

About a month ago I found a (fairly) local tool dealer known as Grandpa's Treasure Chest. Owner Larry Darbyson has been keeping his eyes open for a full set of Irwin auger bits for me.

Earlier this week Larry dropped me a note saying he'd found a likely candidate. I made the time to take a trip out to meet him in person and it was one of the most pleasant visits I've had in quite a while.

Larry received me in his cozy workshop. For nearly two and a half hours we poked and prodded through stacks of vintage saws, bits, planes, chisels and other necessities of life. Too many choices, too much to consider! But, in the end, I found myself in possession of a solid Stanley #7 jointer plane, a 24"x4" steel backed Disston mitre saw, and 12/13ths of a set of Irwin bits in a neat wooden case (sans the 15/16ths size). Additionally, Larry was able to provide a fluted countersink for my brace, plus both 1-1/8" and 1-1/4" augers and a Miller's Falls #47 expansion bit.

Frankly, it was a real treat and a morning I won't soon forget. Larry is doing a stellar job of keeping these valuable devices of the past out of the scrap heap and in the hands of woodworking enthusiasts. I'm already looking forward to future opportunities to interact and converse with Larry.

smooth moves

Recently I was helping my dad wire up a 2-track staging yard for his O-16.5, Welsh inspired portable layout. Dad already had the yard built and attached, so I just packed up my VOM and other electrically necessary tools for the job. The wiring itself was easy.

The staging yard is a removable shelf that attaches to the back of the quarry section of the layout. Trains enter and leave the sceniced portion through a hole in the backdrop.

The intent is to be able to park a couple of short trains off scene, and selectively power one track or the other. The layout is controlled with a Stapleton walkaround DC throttle so a simple on-off-on toggle did the trick in the new yard. A flying lead equipped with Anderson PowerPole connectors brought power from the quarry section.

The entrance to the yard was via a curve ladi across the edge joint and, due to some dimensional assumptions, there was a short slope from the backdrop down into the yard tracks. The included 18" radius section lead directly into the point end of a Peco insulfrog turnout.

And this is where the trouble all started.

One section of rail at the frog end of the "previously enjoyed and slightly shortened" Peco turnout had an intermittent electrical connection. In addition, the points are powered from their adjacent stock rails via small wipers attached to the base of the point rails. As a loco was moving across the turnout, slight shifting of the components made the electrical contact fail unpredictably causing jerky motion or stalling.

I was performing my functional tests with an HO P2K SW 4-axle diesel that (normally) runs beautifully. However, dad only uses 0-4-2 Bachmann and Peco/Branchline locos on the layout. When placed in service they wouldn't make it across the turnout without constant poking and prodding. A bigger issue turned out to be the track geometry itself. The short slope at the backdrop caused the cab end 2-wheel truck on the Bachmann locos to drop down and leave the track entirely, and the curve leading into the shortened point-end of the turnout caused the loco wheels to pick the point tips and derail.

While the equalised chassis of the Peco/Branchlines 0-4-2 engine managed the distance better than the rigid frame Bachmann "Anglacised" On30 Porters, the consistency of operation was not sufficiently high. Something had to be done.

After much filing and adjusting, Dad & I came to the decision to alter the brackets holding the yard shelf to eliminate the slope. He then tore up the track to improve the flow by inserting a short straight section just before the points. The turnout itself will be replaced by a live-frog version so that the short wheelbase locos can enjoy fewer interruptions in electrical pickup.

I'm still waiting to hear if the planned corrections have eliminated all of the problems. The physical distance between our homes makes it difficult to collaborate effectively.


  • avoid sharp transitions in vertical and horizontal planes
  • avoid curves leading into point end of turnout
  • use guard rails where necessary
  • ensure close fitting joints on curves


this plane is grounded

I finally took the time to start refurbishing the Stanley "Handyman" H1204 plane I picked up a short while ago. It's supposed to be a present for my brother-in-law (as far as I know he doesn't read this blog).
as found...

Disassembly was easy; there simply aren't that many parts. As I expected, the bed and frog castings were heavily painted, so neither the bed-to-frog nor frog-to-iron matings were actually solid.

I trued the sole of the plane and cleaned up its sides using medium and fine emery papers laid on my surface plate. The mouth is in decent shape; I don't want to open it. The mating surfaces of the bed and frog had all of the paint cleaned off with my least important single-cut file.

in pieces...
I took a cabinet scraper to the tote and knob, removing a cracked, nasty, shiny black paint. I'll still need to sand these handles before I refinish them with a Minwax stain.

The tip of the cap iron was cleaned up and flattened where it will contact the iron. The iron was then sharpened using my DMT red/blue and 5000 grit ceramic "stones". I picked these up at the now defunct Bingeman's Wood Show in Kitchener a year or so ago and they are working well for me. A bit of camber was added to prevent the iron's corners digging in on wide boards.

Reassembly of the components was straightforward, BUT...

I now understand why the plane was sitting forlornly (yet not too bad looking) at the antique barn. No matter how I adjust the frog, I cannot get the iron to square up with the bed; the left edge remains out of contact unless the adjustment lever is set over to nearly its limit. I assume that the previous owner(s) had little luck using it for any but the most basic planing tasks; there was no evidence of adjustment of the frog at any point in its life so I can only assume this is how it left the factory..

The iron has been re-ground dead square on the Delta grinder + Lee Valley grinding rest combo; there were some massive nicks at the edge. The mouth opening is squarely located on the sole.

back together but not ready for prime-time
The only solution that presents itself is to accurately mill the mating surfaces of the bed (fairly easy) and the frog (more difficult) to guarantee the iron's alignment. The next task will have to be (finally) setting up the Taig mill which has been is mothballs since before the move.

I think this is a good thing.


boxed in

I was able to kill two birds with one stone recently by combining wood working with model railroading; but not building a piece of rolling stock or a structure, or even the benchwork supporting the track.

Just knocking together a couple of boxes...

My friend Trevor Marshall wanted to add the use of waybills to the operating sessions on his S scale "Port Rowan" layout. Many operations-oriented modellers use cut-down representations of prototypical railroad forms - often stuck in little Masonite pockets on the front of their layout fascia. Trevor, however, didn't want to adopt this methodology. He was after something more realistic in appearance to hold his paperwork.

After evaluating several pictures of real waybill boxes, he eventually stated a preference for the Southern Pacific style. Based on the visual aesthetic, I had to agree.

 one basic shell and the start of the second
The real boxes are made of plywood and are quite tall, but the Port Rowan layout fascia would not allow a full sized box to be attached without intruding into the scene. I scaled down the box while trying to retain the functionality.

I needed to reduce the size of the materials to effectively reduce the size of box, but they still had to be robust. Sections of 1/2" and 1/4" poplar were used to create the box, with cast brass hinges & hasps from Lee Valley Tools replacing the (likely) zinc-plated steel hardware of the original.

heavy duty hardware

Brass #8 and #4 fasteners were obtained to attach the hardware; they really should all be slot-head to match the era. The hasp screws may yet get replaced if I can locate a handy source.

Overall dimensions are 2"d x 5-3/4"w x 8"h. A forward-tilting lid (not shown here) is 7"w x 3"d and 1/2" thick. The 1/4" thick front flap is taking on a bit of a bow in an obvious effort to "weather itself".

You can see the prototype inspiration at Tony Thompson's SP blog entry about their own waybill boxes. Trevor has already created a blog post about the installation of these two items on his layout, with links to (much better) pictures of the finished product.