Jim Wilson
Metalworker

Copyright 2002 by Jim Wilson

I love to make things -- just about anything, really -- but my favorite things to make are tools. Besides making tools for others, I spend a fair bit of shop time repairing and improving machine and woodworking tools, and making jigs, fixtures, tooling and accessories for the shop and various odd jobs.

Whenever I get a round TUIT, I hope to build a forge and a small foundry. My dad is a blacksmith. When I visited him awhile back, I took the opportunity to play a little bit with his setup.

Visiting my wife's family in upstate New York a few years ago, I spied an Atlas 10" lathe collecting dust and rust in the corner of her brother's garage. I knew what a metalworking lathe was, but that was about it. Ray noticed me ogling it and gave it to me on the spot. He said he'd never even used it, and it took up too much space.

I had no way to get it home right then, but I did do a little research on the machine, and started lurking in RCM. Almost a year later, his brother U-Haul'd the beast to Tucson on his way to San Francisco. I sent Ray $300 and patted myself on the back.

That was my introduction to metalworking. The Atlas arrived in October 1999, and I started tearing it apart in March 2000. By April it had been disassembled to the last woodruff key, cleaned, stripped, repainted and reassembled. It had been a production lathe, and had seen some heavy [ab]use.

It came with virtually no tooling, just one worn-out old three-jaw chuck. It needed a lot of parts. I had to replace the turret tailstock with a regular one, and locate a compound for it. I spent probably $800 or so getting it into useful condition and outfitting it with a reasonable complement of tooling.

I thought at the time I was "restoring" it, but really I was just fooling myself. It's an ok hobby lathe, but the ways and lead screws are worn. I imagined for a while that someday I'd scrape the bed and mating surfaces, and replace the lead screws and nuts. Now, I'm pretty sure I'll end up replacing the whole lathe instead.

In November 2000, I started making parts for woodworkers' hand tools. Milling operations on that Atlas lathe were tough, but I learned a lot! I managed to last through December, before I broke down and bought a 25-year-old Bridgeport vertical mill. It desperately needs some TLC, but so far I've been so busy making chips that I haven't had any time to tend to it. Things could be worse, eh?