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Horizontal Mills  by Boots Obermeyer

One important thing on machine tools has come to my mind and that is horizontal mills are often not considered for many machining jobs.  I think the reason for this is horizontal mills are often big and difficult to move or place in your work area.  However, there is more to consider.

For example, when I first got going after getting out of the army I needed a mill to make some barrels into octagon profile for restorations of some early Winchester 1886 rifles in calibers like 40-65.  I found an old horizontal mill for sale at a machine shop.  It had a long table and was from the early days with an overhead belt drive.  It had a converter drive.  These older machines tend to weigh less and can be broken down to move much easier than newer ones.  A mill like this gives you more options for work: the deck can be turned to angles, much like the table on a drill press; this is not an option found on newer horizontal mills.  If you find one of these check it out as the price is usually very low.

Horizontal mills like this can be used to octagon or flute barrels and with some extra setups, you can even make a ribbed barrel.  Another very important use for these mills is the cutting of gears.

In repairing machines you can make special gears you probably can't buy unless you are willing to pay huge amount of $$$.  You can sometime repair a gear by cutting a slot where some teeth have broken, insert a block and silver-soldier or braze it in place.  After this, turn the O.D. and face both sides of the gear to match the existing teeth in a lathe.  To do this, the gear would have to be mounted on a mandrel held between centers on the lathe.  Then, set up with an index head in the mill and cut the teeth in.  A little work but you may be able to save $200 or more and some time trying to find a gear that is the right size and pitch.

Speaking of gear pitch, there are also some special gears that are very hard to find; beveled gears.  I once bought a Milwaukee mill very cheap because the table feed would not work.  After I got it to the shop and took some of it apart, I found that the problem was that someone had installed regular gears instead of bevel-faced gears.  These are next to impossible to find so I some research on how to cut them.  Cutting bevel-faced gears requires a double pass on 2 different angles.  It sounds harder to do than what it really is once you figure out how to do it.  So, not only can this can be a big savings for yourself but also an additional source of income.

Now some gears can be cut on a vertical mill but for large gears (6”+), the mill cutter works much better on the horizontal mill with the gear mounted on a mandrel with the mandrel supported on both ends; much as was described for turning the O.D. and facing.  Also, the size of gear cutters changes depending on the number of teeth, tooth size and diameter of the gear.  Cutting gears is a whole specialized field of machining which requires some study.  Keep your eyes open at sales because the cutters are also hard to find.  Many times these cutters can be found cheap because they are not used often for general machining operations.  Gear cutters can be very good for fluting because you get more width than depth.

Still another use for a horizontal mill is that it can be used like a vertical mill on its side.  I found this out when I had to machine some cuts in the ends of a long bar like a dovetail.  The bar was too long even if I swung the head of my Bridgeport to the side.  I even tried a riser block under the head of the Bridgeport to no avail.  So I decided to try a horizontal mill.  With a holder from a Gorton 9J vertical mill that matched the spindle of the horizontal mill, I was able to install the cutter in the horizontal mill.  Then, I held the bar end in a vise on the mill table and supported the other end off of the table and made the required cut.

So, keep all of this in mind.  You may find a good buy on a mill and be able to do some jobs you never thought you could do.  One other thing to keep in mind: I bought 2 Kempsmith mills from the local Tech College when they replaced them with CNC machines.  Not many people are interested in manual machines now because the whole focus of machine shop training is CNC so the price was very low.



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