Having it and not needing it or Needing it and not having it ?

Changing the Drive Belt on a Cowells ME90 Lathe

One of the posters that Jimmy Diresta sells says “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it”. The saying is apt and often strikes home.  This is not just in terms of larger workshop assets but also in the small scheme of things like workshop tooling.  You know the time you spent making a jig for a job and thought ‘all that extra time and effort to just make that and what do I do with the tooling now ?’

I think it is a saying that is close to the heart of many hobbyist no matter what the medium you are working in.   It does explain why our workshops are full of ‘stuff’ that we accumulate on the ‘just in case’ basis.  How many screwdrivers do we really need ?  The answer of course is ‘one more’.

I believe there should be a sub clause to Jimmy’s poster – “Needing it and Having it yet not being able to Use It”.

I have a Cowells ME90 mini lathe which is a beautiful piece of engineering and I seem to remember it was my first real mechanical engineering purchase.   For 364 days of the year it sits looking forlorn at the back of the bench asking to be valued, loved and used.   When it is called into use it is indispensable.   Usually.  On a recent once in a blue moon 365th day when it and only it could perform a task for me I found the drive belt to the headstock had perished.  You could almost see the grin on the ME90s face.   Gottcha mate, serves you right for not looking after me.

Thankfully the drive belts are standard sewing machine belts (#MB410) and are readily available both direct from Cowells or numerous sources on the Internet including Amazon.   A replacement was ordered and it arrived quite quickly.

Now to the nub of the problem – how to fit the belt ?   Looking at the headstock it suggested that maybe the whole assembly had to be lifted off and split but the cap head screws for this which went down into the baseplate did not want to budge.   I looked at the spindle and it seemed to have differing diameters that at first glance would not allow it to be removed out of the bearing mounts.

Cowells ME90 headstock assembly
Cowells ME90 headstock assembly for reference while following the belt replacement instructions working left to right

Rather than risk a regretful step I emailed Cowells and very quickly got a support reply from Colin.   For all future intrepid belt changers here are his instructions : –

The only way to fit the belt between the 3 step pulleys is to dismantle the headstock assembly.

Its quite simple really:-

Start at the left hand side of the headstock.

1, Unscrew the knurled gear retaining nut.

2, Pull off the 20 tooth gear ( be careful not to lose the tiny Woodruffe key beneath it).

3, Unscrew the round adjuster nut that butts against the large (64t) gear. -You can use a pair of pliers/grips if you put some emery cloth in their jaws.

4, Slacken the M5 grub screw ( or take it out) in the 64t gear.

5, Pull this gear off. (If it is reluctant to budge then, its probably due to a burr underneath- see below for advice).

6, Slacken the M4 grub screw( or remove) in the little collar that abuts the headstock pulley inside the headstock channel.

7, Slacken (or remove) the grub screw in the central vee of the headstock pulley.

8, Slacken the tension on the two bearing adjuster journals- these are the large cap head screws you see on the top face of the headstock body.

9, It should now be possible for the headstock spindle to eject toward the tailstock.

Clean all parts thoroughly and re-assemble in reverse.

If you have trouble removing the 64t gear then, make sure all grub screws are removed as above. Screw back on the knurled gear retaining nut and with a hide mallet, gently tap the headstock spindle toward the tailstock.

As I said in my thank you reply to Colin, I felt like a hybrid version of ‘stupid boy Pike’ and ‘Rodney you plonker’.   (UK sitcom specific joke).

Enough said ?

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Further 3D printed soft jaws for the Thwaites clock escape wheel

More use of 3D printed Soft Jaws

A few posts ago I talked about using 3D printed soft jaws for work holding in CNC operations.   This method does not replace conventional aluminium soft jaws where high accuracy machining operations are to take place.  Instead it is intended to allow second side ‘decking’ of what would have been excess stock on the material blank that had been used for work holding.

I am currently creating missing components for a Thwaites turret clock.  I had finished the pallets and I now moved onto the new escape wheel.   The design was created in Fusion 360 and integrated the pallets and the escape wheel together so the critical geometry was compatible.

The brass blank for the escape wheel was a 1/4″ brass block which I managed to hold tightly in the machine vice with a 1mm thickness of gripping stock.  (I don’t have Tallon grips or similar so I have to be generous).  I machined the wheel and was left with this 1mm to skim off the reverse side of the wheel.

I did not want the teeth on the new wheel to get damaged when gripped in the vice so the 3D printed soft jaw concept appealed.   The PLA would provide grip.   The teeth on the wheel could bite into the PLA without suffering any damage.

I had already created a single blank soft jaw In Fusion 360 for the previous pallet holding job.   This like it would be fine to accommodate the wheel dimensions.   I simply had to import two of these into the new soft jaw design (not forgetting to ‘Break the Link’ so the jaw models could be edited). I projected the wheel onto the soft jaw’s face and added a 0.2mm positive offset border.   I almost made the mistake of forgetting to invert the wheel as the soft jaw image must be a mirror of the Fusion top side view of the design to be gripped.

Fusion 360 view of the Thwaites wheel projected onto the PLA 3D printed soft jaws
Fusion 360 view of the Thwaites wheel projected onto the PLA 3D printed soft jaws.

The finished brass wheel did not accurately reflect the geometry of the Fusion design.  This is because the resolution of the tight corner CNC operations were limited to tool sizes.   I added fillets to all the ‘sharp’ edges in the soft jaw image to accommodate this.   I also had to do some tweaking of the inter jaw spacing 3D joint to reflect the wheel diameter and the amount of grip I judged might be needed.

Close up view of the fillet modifications to the sharp corners of the wheel outline
Close up view of the fillet modifications to the projected sharp corners of the wheel outline into the soft jaws.
Soft jaws and wheel ready to be skimmed
Soft jaws and the brass wheel ready to be skimmed.   The residual original square stock has been roughly trimmed around the wheel circumference.
The jaws were printed and I have to say were somewhat cosy tight around the wheel geometry.   When the jaws were mounted in the machine vice, the wheel was not going anywhere and the excess backing brass was skimmed off quickly and easily with no apparent movement of the wheel in the jaws.
Finished wheel mounted in the jaws after excess stock had been skimmed off
Finished wheel mounted in the jaws after the excess work holding stock had been skimmed off.
The finished escape wheel and pallets mounted in the Thwaites clock
The finished escape wheel and pallets mounted in the Thwaites clock

I am really warming to this technique.   It is quick and easy to implement and any mistakes can be quickly rectified with a new 3D print without having to remake aluminium versions.  I like it and recommend it.

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Vice soft jaws and then soft soft vice jaws

A Different Approach to Soft Jaws

A comment that I often make is about how having varied resources available to do a job creates on the one hand a quandary as to what route to take but on the other hand it can lead to a light bulb moment. Having a 3D printer available along side a CNC machine often creates this dilemma and often to advantage. 

Stick with me on this.

I am currently immersed in creating parts for an old turret (church) clock as pictured below.   My wife put it down as a JSN job but once again the challenge it presented won the day.  

view of the church clock as delivered to me to work on
Not a pretty sight but things do seem to move and things are certainly missing.

The client found me from my blog entry about creating the Brocot wheel in CNC.   His clock as you can see is missing the pallet arbor, pallets, crutch and arbor suspension bracket.  If that wasn’t enough it also needs a new escape wheel.  This is very similar to the aforementioned Brocot wheel but smaller in size.  Fortunately the old escape wheel was still in place but in poor shape with the teeth ends fairly battered and one tooth partially missing.

I created the CAM for the new escape wheel in Fusion 360 and then from the wheel design created the geometry for the pallets.  (There is a great document created by the BHI as part of their DLC called ‘Drawing Clock and Watch Escapements’ that helped on this as did W.J. Gazeley’s book ‘Clock and Watch Escapements’). In order to check the pallet design I decided to first of all print a 3D model.   The printed part looked like it would work when tried against the original battered escape wheel.

Next step in my evolutionary process was to make an aluminium version on the Tormach CNC.   I used a superglue mounting block and cut the pallet profile for the full 10mm stock depth and down to the blue mounting masking tape.   Because the aluminium was so soft and I kept the DOC gentle this turned out well.

Although the aluminium version worked very well and helped me prove the working of the clock,  aluminium is too soft for clock pallets.   A steel set would now needed and I opted for 20mm ground flat stock as the ideal material.  

Side #1 was cut while being held in the machine vice on parallels.  A 2mm thickness of stock was left as the gripping layer.   All went to plan.

running side 1 of the clock pallets designed in fusion 360 and running on the Tormach 440 CNC mill
Side one machining of the clock pallet. An 8mm 3D Adaptive has completed and a 4mm follow on is now being run to clean up the finish.  Note the newly installed second Fogbuster nozzle.
Side one of the clock pallets completed showing the residual stock to leave as a side two operation
Finished side 1 operations and ready to invert to remove the residual stock used to grip in the vice jaws

Side #2 now became the headache.   I could have used the super glue bonding of the stock as per the aluminium version. My twitch was that this would leave very little of the pallet material remaining to act as a secure bonding face with the superglue.  Given I was cutting steel there was every chance of things parting company.  I could hold the model inverted in the vice but there was a real danger of the nib tips getting crushed.   Not a good idea.

Clearly the right solution was to make a pair of soft jaws to grip the pallet shape while I was decking off the side #2 residual 2mm.

Now here is the light bulb moment.   I designed the soft jaws in Fusion so they would swap out the existing steel jaws on my machine vice.   This is a straightforward process using the Project function.   The best demo of this that I have seen is by Cough42 and is worth a watch.

pictorial view of the pallet soft jaws to allow side #2 material to be removed
The jazzed up Fusion view of the soft jaws (red and green) and the finished pallet shape that gets gripped in them.

I was about to order some aluminium stock to make the soft jaws when the 3D printer winked at me from the corner of the workshop.  Could I print the soft jaws on the printer and get enough grip to allow the last 2mm to be decked off ?  This had to be worth a try and had the advantage that I could be getting on with another of the clock components while they were printing.

Taking this route I decided I would need to modify the design in Fusion.   The 3D printer always leaves cavities a bit under size.  I used Fusion’s Offset Faces to increase the profile shape by 0.2mm all around.  I set the gap between the two jaws at 1mm.

Print time was around 2.5 hours for each each jaw.   With CAM and setup time, running them in aluminium would have been similar.   I gained the 5 hours to do something else.  (i.e. Drink tea watching the mill ….)

The idea worked.   The PLA tightly gripped the inverted Side #1 profile while I decked off the 2mm residual stock.  I didn’t go too aggressive on DOC.

finished pallets with PLA soft jaws
View of the finished pallets with the PLA soft jaws in the background mounted in the machine vice

 A set of PLA soft jaws – not a radical idea but food for thought.   

Aluminium soft jaws are essential if you are going to be undertaking detailed feature machining of Side #2 but if it is a simple decking skim then PLA would seem more than adequate.  Soft jaws are 1 off items dedicated to a particular part.   They are consumable as is the PLA but the PLA versions are overall quicker to produce.

This has been another situation where what would have been a no brainer ‘this is how we normally do this’ turned into a ‘how else could I do this with the resources at my disposal and make life easier ? ‘.  It is that lazy side of me shining through yet again …..   

Onwards to the next phase of the clock activity.

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Myford Lathe ‘Bits’ Tray

A Rainy Day Job

Browsing this months copy of ‘Model Engineering Workshop‘ I was taken by the idea published in the Readers’ Tips section by Bernard Towers for his ‘Bits and Bobs’ tray for his Myford lathe.   A simple but obvious idea.  Quite often I am machining small parts or need to make drill changes and the related items all get lost in the swarf, tools and detritus that has accumulated in the tool tray.  Either that or I put them somewhere ‘safe’ on top slide and they get knocked off and lost …. we have all been there.

It was another grey and miserable lockdown day outside so the idea looked worthy of an hour or so of rewarding therapy.  The nice part about Bernard’s design was the ability to slide the tray in and out on the top slide front edge with a spring loaded T slot retaining strip.

I had inherited a stock pile of surplus nickel silver flat pack RF screening cans with one or two pieces having pre-etched folding lines that would match the size and shape needed.  Only a fourth side needing to be cut and hand folded.  Conveniently these folding lines were just at the right height for the tray walls so they would not foul the cross slide rotation.   Once all four sides were folded up a fillet of solder was run down each corner to seal it and any sharp edges removed.   Nickel silver is one of my favourite fabrication materials being rust free, strong and easy to solder.

The tray is held in place with a length of T slot material and I created this as a 3D print in PLA.   I included hex profile holes on the lower surface to take M4 Nyloc nuts.   This meant I was inverting the retaining construction as shown by Bernard.  I also used cap head screws to mount the pressure retaining springs.

A lovely and useful time filler project and I am indebted to Bernard for publishing his idea in MEW.


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Adding stepper motors to a Myford VMB manual milling machine

Myford VMB Manual Mill Conversion to Stepper Motor control

After many years of winding the Z axis up and down on my Myford VMB I have finally got around to fitting motor control and it is a joy to use.   I am however suffering from muscle wastage as a result.

stepper motor control of a VMB manual milling machine
A general view of the stepper motor control conversion of a VMB manual milling machine. Only the X and Z axis are completed so far. The control box is on the wall behind the mill and has the Shumatech DRO control panel mounted on the front panel.

I have done a write up for those who might want to also enjoy a less taxing movement of X, Y or Z axis on their manual milling machine.  Click on the link below to download as a pdf.

 Fitting XYZ motor feeds to Myford VMB v4

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