“Does it run?”, I asked the goatee-wearing college kid working the estate sale. “I don’t know, let’s plug it in and see.” So we did. And it ran. But it made a loud rumbling sound. “Could be the bearings,” goatee-boy said. “How much you asking for it?” “Make me an offer.” “25 bucks work for you?” “Sold,” says he.
So I borrowed a dolly, backed up my Mini Cooper to the garage—you’d be surprised what a Mini Cooper can haul—then took the head off, and with the help of another college kid working his summer job, got-er loaded.
I know. I emphasize hand tools in my woodworking. And I L O V E my hand braces. But there are times when I’ve longed for the precision of a drill press. And besides that, I’m not a handtool purist. There. I’ve said it out loud.
Here’s what I brought home.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I gave my new treasure a good cleaning and fashioned a wood handle to replace the broken table adjustment lever.
It still rumbled. Off to the Internet to do some research. The nameplate spelled out what I was researching.
It looks like something from the 60s or 70s but I hoped that I could dig up a digital manual for it.
No dice and no manual. But I did find this manual, which I used as a guide. The Troubleshooting page was most helpful.
Tuning her up
I found a few resources to help me bring my newest shop addition to working order. The Tune Up Your Drill Press video on Youtube was excellent. This video on replacing a spindle was helpful too, because it showed me how to disassemble the head to replace the bearings. More on that in a moment.
There’s nothing like a good KISS
Keep it simple stupid. That’s what I remind myself whenever I start a rehab like this. In my case, I started at square one. My research suggested that bad belts might be the root rumbling cause. So I took them off and inspected them. Sure enough, there were small cracks in the rubber and one of them had a bulge that I could feel. I just needed to replace them right? How hard could it be to find a new belt?
I’ll save you a lot of driving around. Forget the auto part stores. I found replacement v-belts at a local Ace Hardware superstore. Six bucks each.
And sure enough, it did help. A lot. But there was still some vibration—enough to make stuff dance a bit on the metal disc tray.
The troubleshooting guide suggested securing the base better to the floor. Here’s my solution.
That helped too. I was making progress. But surely there was more I could do.
Perhaps it’s the bearings. I should replace them. How hard could it be to find new bearings?
Fortunately, the old bearings had the maker’s name plus the numbers 4201z and 4204z. I’ll save you a lot of Internet research. I found them on Ebay. While I did buy them from an outfit in Hong Kong (Dragonmarts (Hong Kong) Limited), they were $10.66 total. A single NTN (original manufacturer’s bearing) 4204z was going for $17.00! I went with Hong Kong. Nine days later I had the bearings in hand and changed them out.
I suspect that my drilling machine is noisier than other drill presses, but heck, I’ve got a nice running machine for $25.00 + $12.00 in belts + $10.66 in bearings =$47.66 hard costs. I would also tack on a Drill Press 101 education—priceless.
If’n you go shopping for a used drill press here are a few things I learned from my experience.
- If it rumbles you may have to replace bearings and pully wheels. If you’re lucky you just need new belts. It’s not hard to do, but you should brace yourself for the worst case and factor the cost of potential parts into your thinking before you make an offer.
- When you buy your vintage drill press:
- Ask/look for its manual
- Be sure to get the chuck key
- Try to get the chuck key wedge (the thingy that helps you separate the chuck from the spindle)
- Have the seller include any accessories in the price. Sanding drums, desirable bits, whatever, because picking up this stuff piecemeal could start racking up the buckaroonies.
- Give your DP a good KISS-Start with the easiest (read cheapest) solutions and work your way from there. Start with a thorough cleaning. Then progress to new belts, bearings and pullies in that order.
Once you’ve got your new beauty running like a TSA scanner, you’ll want to build a table for it. The metal-working table that comes with a drill press simply isn’t up to the precision tasks that woodworking requires.And that brothers and sisters, is the subject of a future post.