Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

A rolling blog of everyday life on and around the workbench


06/11/2018: I've been having a spot of fun buying a few tools lately. Well, I say fun - because there's a fair bit of work that goes into research before I feel comfortable about handing over quite large sums of money for gadgets that I expect to last me for a good few years.
The most pressing item on the list was a new cordless drill. My old Hitachi has seen a lot of use, and better days - and while it was always reasonably accurate it was never really fast enough. The batteries were rather weak too - and because it costs almost as much to buy a whole new drill as it does to buy a couple of new batteries, it was time to see what else was on the market these days.
The first order of business was to decide what I wanted from the tools - and because they're replacing existing tools, to decide what improvements I'd be looking for. Having nailed down a wish-list of specs, the next job was to find out which tools met the criteria...which usually means trawling around a lot of websites, jotting down facts and figures. Once a shortlist had been drawn up it was time to go hunting reviews, and this was perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the task. What I'd have really liked to find was the 'SHWoodwind of <insert desired item here>' - you know...nicely-balanced reviews that go into plenty of technical details, all the pros and cons spelled out and weighed up, and the sense that whoever's conducting the review is impartial. And yeah, it never hurts if they're slightly obsessed by the subject either.

My new drillIf you've ever spent any time browsing for tool reviews you'll know that such people are few and far between - and a great many video 'reviews' seem to consist of one or two rather shouty geezers who wave their tools in the air (and you can read that any way you like) and never really tell you that much about the item in question...other than to say it's really good, how much it costs and where you can get it (affiliate links provided, of course). I managed to find a few reviews that seemed sensible, as well as a couple that actually took a screwdriver to the products and pulled them apart - but for the most part the most useful information came from real-world reviews...people who'd bought and used the tools for a few months and had a few comments to share about the experience.

But, of course, nothing beats actually getting your hands on the gear and seeing how it performs for your needs - and as luck would have it there was a large tool fair coming to a town near me, which meant that not only could I try the tools out, but I'd also get to speak to the company reps (who tend to know more about their products that your average seller).
Come the day I had a traditional 'going to a tool fair breakfast' of a bacon sarnie and a mash o' tea, put on my best checked fleece jacket, popped a dab of WD40 behind my ears, gave my boots a bit of a scuffing and set off to mingle with several thousand other punters who'd all had the same idea. And I also took with me a short length of ground steel rod.

I figured I might feel a bit out of place, what with the focus of the show being the building trades and me being a posh craftsman an' all, and as I pulled into the car-park I realised my fears were well-founded. I parked my old banger next to a sparkly new Mercedes and took care not to bash my door into the gleaming Jag beside me. I even spotted an Aston Martin on my 'walk of shame' from the car-park to the exhibition hall which left me a little rueful, admittedly - but it at least prompted me to come up with one of those 'wise old sayings' such as a father might pass on to his offspring, and it's "There's more brass in building than silver in saxophones" (it packs a bit more punch if you preface it with "Eeee lad..."). But hey, I'm a craftsman...right?

It was a pretty good show - and aside from the power tool companies there were a few stands that featured soldering and brazing equipment, adhesives, abrasives, lighting, lubricants and general hand tools. Had a very nice chat with the guy from Rothenberger about their gas torches, got to try out some Wera and Wiha screwdrivers (not bad, but nowhere near as nice as my old Stanleys), had a look at the new Dremel stuff and looked at the possibility of investing in some LED panel lighting. And there were freebies to be had too!
But the main event for me was the narrowing down of my shortlist of drills - which was where the ground steel bar came into play. A hand drill is never going to be as accurate as a pillar drill or a lathe, but it makes sense to get the best you can - so I made a complete nuisance of myself by bunging the rod into various drills and seeing how much it wobbled.
I have to say I was very surprised by some of the results. I hadn't really gone in with a budget in mind - if what I needed was gonna cost me, then so be it - but it took just a couple of minutes to write off two of the most expensive brands that are supposed to be a cut above the rest.

As you can see by the shot above, I ended up going with Milwaukee - for several reasons.
Their drill exceeded the specs I needed and had easily the most accurate chuck. The rep was curious about my test with the ground steel bar, and when I explained what I'd mostly be using the drill for, he grabbed a whole bunch of them and insisted I check each and every one in turn. They were all the same. Better yet, it's part of what they call a 'system' - which means that one battery fits a whole range of tools....of which there are around 70 or so. Now that's bloody sensible - because the more tools you have that fit a particular battery, the more economical it becomes when you have to buy a new one. I mentioned this to the rep, who promptly took me on a tour of the whole damn range...which includes a very interesting polisher that could be converted into a very high speed drill (great for lapping rod screws). As you can see, I succumbed to the lure of new tools and splashed out on an impact driver too. It's not much use for fixing horns, but comes into its own when building benches and jigs.

Live and dead centresA few weeks later I also treated myself to a new live (or revolving) centre for the lathe.
This is an important bit of kit if you have a lathe, and is used to support the free end of the workpiece while the other end is held in the chuck. It's called a live centre because it's able to spin with the work - as opposed to a dead centre (lower right) which is static. I must have had the old live centre (upper right) for the best part of 30 years, and while it's always been good enough for my purposes it's always been a bit on the large size...and it's starting to show its age (they get a bit wobbly).
While you can usually get by with just the one live centre, it's handy to have more than one - perhaps in different sizes or with a different heads. The thing is though, they ain't cheap - or at least a decent one isn't - and it's seldom worth buying cheap when you need a degree of accuracy that you know is going to hold over a lengthy period of time.

Live centre systemThe Milwaukee system got me a-thinkin'; what would make perfect sense is a live centre system...a single body onto which various heads could be fitted. It made such sense that I was sure someone would have already thought of it...and so they have.

This kit came with half a dozen interchangeable heads (or tips, if you like) that fit onto the body by means of a small taper. This makes them very accurate and repeatable - if you take them out and put them back in again, they sit in exactly the same place each time. But better still it was now possible to make up my own heads to fit the body.
The ones that came with the centre are all just variation of the three you can see on the right - in other words they're just points of various sizes (though there's also a small 'reverse' point). This is all fine, and very useful, but in this trade you sometimes need centres that are somewhat unique.

The ones I've knocked up (so far) are on the left - and are labelled thusly:
A: A reverse point...AKA a cone. This is good for supporting wooden tubes, which a traditional centre might cause to split.
B: A bore centre. This fits inside the lower end of a clarinet's lower joint and allows full access to the surface and the face of the tenon sleeve, with no risk of spitting the sleeve.
C: Key pearl friction chucks. You may remember I made a gadget for turning pearls to size back in February 2018 - which fits into a standard drill chuck. It works just fine, but there's no sense in having to remove the live centre and then fit a chuck...and then fit the friction chuck when I can simply pop a dedicated head into the live centre that's nearly always on the lathe anyway.
D: Straight bar: I've no immediate use for this, but if I need to knock up a custom centre on the quick it'll be a lot less work to make something that'll fit over a plain rod than it would be to set the lathe up to cut a short taper (it took at least an hour to set it up to make this little lot).
E: Larger friction chucks. These are handy when you want to turn thin sheets of metal or wood into discs (such as the precision flat standards for tonehole levelling - also mentioned in the February 2018 blog).
F: Drill chuck. When you're using very small drills (or taps) it's often better to spin them by hand. It gives a better feel as to how the tool is coping and cutting. It's also another means of mounting quick and dirty custom centres that don't need a high degree of accuracy.

Turning a wheel studI made them all up in one session, mostly because of the hassle of setting the lathe up to cut the taper. As nice as my lathe is, it doesn't have the best rotating topslide arrangement - so dialling in a taper is a matter of getting it as close as you can 'by the numbers' and then tweaking it (with a wooden mallet) until it's just right. It's a lot of going back and forth, so once you've got the topslide in the right place you really, really don't want to move it. Needless to say, I gave a lot of thought to what other heads might be useful before I repositioned the slide to cut the cone on item A...

So it's been a bit of a costly few weeks on the whole - but that's how it goes with tools. You sometimes have to spend out to save time, and to be able to do a better job. But like anyone else I'm all for saving a few bob here and there...which is why the smaller of the friction chucks (E) is particularly satisfying. Tools cost money, but so does the material used to make them - and while most of the heads had to be cut from solid lumps of stainless steel, I made the smaller chuck out of an old BMW wheel stud.
Likewise, item F was made from the chuck and shaft out of an old power drill. It had been kicking around in a drawer for over 20 years - but I always knew it'd come in handy one day...



If you've enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to contribute
towards the cost of creating this independent content, please use the button below.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2018