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I’ve been afraid to use the Bridgeport mill and South Bend Lathe, my two machining tools. To get over this hesitation, I’m making a project using the two machines; a T-track stop block. Come see how you can get over a fear of starting something new by making something awesome.

  1. Identify the Real Hazards
  2. Design a Simple Project
  3. Make a Game Plan for Success

1. Identify the Real Hazards

In this new “I’m Afraid of:” series, I examine the tools or processes that I avoid because I’m not comfortable. Machining tools like my Bridgeport mill and my South Bend lathe scare me. They scare me for a few reasons; I’m not experienced with them, there is an order of operations sequence that I don’t know, there are tons of tools and fittings that all look alike, & their large motors can mangle me without slowing down. The tool or process for you may be different, but the rationale is the same. In this project, I’m Afraid of Machining.

To tackle my apprehension, I’m going to make a simple product using the scary tools. To balance my limited skill level with the scope of the project, I am breaking this T-track stop block project into three manageable parts. Two of the T-track’s parts will be milled on the Bridgeport and the tightening knob will be made on the South Bend lathe (the scarier one). With these smaller goals in mind, I can now identify the right end mills, tool holders, vices, and cutting speeds necessary to make just these parts out of softer, more manageable, metals.

2. Design a Simple Project

The T-track stop block is a simple enough idea to manufacture myself. I need a block of aluminum that can sit in front of the T-track on my miter saw, an arm that can slide up and down to stop the wood, and a tightening screw to hold everything together; three simple parts. The T-track block and the arm will be milled on the Bridgeport, while the tightening knob will be made out of knurled brass on the lathe.

Armed with a simple design, I could then focus on the order of operations, or build sequence, as best as I could figure. Ensuring that each successive step could be firmly held in the vice, wouldn’t cut through a previous step, and that I had the proper tools to achieve my desired results. I could now step as confidently into these cutting operations as I could, but you don’t know what you don’t know. I plan on listening to the machines, the sounds of the cut, and the feedback I feel from the handles. If something doesn’t feel right, I can immediately stop and investigate.

3. Make a Game Plan For Success

I milled some aluminum stock on the Bridgeport so it has parallel sides and 90-degree edges. Once squared, I applied some blue marking fluid and scribed the dimensions onto the block’s face. I then used the Digital Read Out (DRO) on the mill to remove the material necessary to fit into the T-track. I then made the sliding arm piece out of aluminum in the same manner. The mill made easy work of cutting the slots and holes through the soft aluminum.

The last part of this project is the piece I’ve been putting off, the turned knurled knob. I am more confident on the mill (which isn’t saying a lot) than I am on the metal lathe. When I set up the machine 2 years ago, I was scared by the sound and the all of the levers and handles. I understand the concept behind the metal lathe because I’ve had a smaller one in the past, but this thing is massive and presents a lot more challenges.

I decided to use a piece of round brass stock for the knob and purchased a tool to add knurling to the sides. Knurling is the crosshatched groove pattern that adds texture and grip to handles and pens. I wasn’t entirely sure how to use the knurling tool, but I was able to go slow and make some pretty nice cuts. With a lot of caution and nervous faces, I drilled a hole through the center and parted the knob off the remaining stock. Once the hole was tapped with threads, I could add it to the T-track stop block, and it was finished.

Am I Still Scared: Kinda.

I think that having a healthy respect for a tool and its abilities is a good thing. What I have learned is that I can’t let that “healthy respect” stop me from using the tool to accomplish a task. Like all things, I need more practice and instruction on the machining tools to become proficient. There are handles I don’t touch and tooling I don’t use because they are still foreign. But, this project has allowed me to face my fear of machining head on and make incremental progress toward proficiency. If there is a tool or process that you are putting off, it’s okay. Take your time and make something digestible as a first step. Challenge yourself to face that issue head on with a healthy level of self-preservation. You can do it.

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