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L. & I. J. White


Tool Stories

  Hornswoggled! by John Manners


Fellow Ferrousoxidites,

There comes a time to all of us where the sharp, darting, calculating eye, the swift, sure, knowledgeable hand and the store of impeccable blarney mastered over decades all avail us naught in the coming-to-grips with a worthy adversary in the form of a flea-market vendor.

Some months ago I espied on the table of one of my more cheerful vendors an old looking, largish (18"), enclosed-gear, two-speed breast-drill.  The asking price was $10.00 but a masterly haggle on my part, pointing out that I had several of its fellows in my arsenal of drills already, that its maker thought so little of his product that he declined to place his name on it in any readily visible place, that the chuck's springs had long ago deserted it necessitating an almost impossible quest to find replacements and that its best, final use would be for winding up balls of wool to be used to knit sweaters for old soldiers on hard times, brought tears to his smiling face.

He gratefully accepted my proffered fiver and blessed me for taking it off his hands, accepting my assurance that its only redeeming feature was that, on my slow revolving of the handle, the spindle revolved freely at a higher rate of Radians per Second (Thus we in Oz "metricized" Revolutions per Minute).

Within a day or so of its acquisition the chuck was removed from its rather forward position on the spindle (Is that the correct name for the part?) and deposited in the freezer, whereafter some months passed whilst I turned my interest to other things.

Approximately a week ago I had occasion to open the freezer on the beer 'fridge and there, amongst the unknowable things that seem to multiply in a freezer, I found, glaring reproachfully at me, the chuck, whose existence, along with the existence of its driving force, had wandered out of memory.

Always one to acknowledge that the unexpected is probably a sign from the gods to get on with it, whatever "it" may be, I removed the chuck and let it thaw for a while to reduce the chance of frostbite, then gave it numerous little taps with a small ball-peen hammer to loosen things up, then inserted it in a vice and with my trusty ever-tightening spanner I finally managed to unscrew the top of the chuck after going through the step-by-step, ever-confusing mental process of trying to determine which direction was the most likely to yield results.  Disassembly truly established that there was not a spring to be had.

Now is the time for a little candour.  I have been known, when in full bargaining cry with a fleaster, to be a little on the side of the less-than-ingenuous.  Thus, when relating to the then-proprietor of the artifact in question the sad circumstance of the difficulties of replacing chuck springs, I neglected to mention that, for many years, I have made use of a virtually inexhaustible coil of thin piano wire, originally acquired for snaring the occasional rabbit or two when the prospect of putting myself in the position of having to dig a ferret out of an iron-hard bury seemed a little too daunting.

And thus, after cleaning up the chuck's component parts to find the jaws in first rate condition, I set to manufacturing the springs.  The method employed is, initially, very similar to that described, with photographs, by the masterful Peter McBride some time ago relative to his making silver chain links. 

The size of the holes in the bases of the chuck jaws are gauged with a drill bit and a bit two sizes (64ths) smaller is selected and tightened in the chuck of an egg-beater.  A short end of a length of piano wire is bent at right angles and inserted in one of the gaps between the chuck's jaws, the chuck and bit are turned and the wire is wound on to the bit, each turn touching the preceding turn.  Enough turns are made to approximate the length of the three required springs, bearing in mind the next part of this activity. 

One's death-like grip on the standing part of the wire is released and it is found that the coil expands across its section to make a neat fit in the holes of the jaws.  The coil is slid off the bit and then stretched until a longish compression spring is formed, thereby overcoming a couple of points of elastic limit of the originally tight-wound tension spring.  The ends are trimmed and then a piece of the spring equal to twice the depth of a hole in the chuck plus 2 or 3 turns is cut off.  This piece is inserted in a hole in two separate pieces of the jaw and these pieces are compressed together. I f their sides can then be brought flush against the pressure of the spring and expand again to the distance between them before pressure was applied then this is the correct size for the springs. 

If the sides can not be brought flush together then the spring is too long and requires trimming until the two jaw pieces can be forced flush together.  The number of turns in the coil is counted and two more springs having that number of turns are cut from the remaining small coil, and there one is.  Piano wire, although it is cold-worked in this exercise, seems to retain its spring and temper without heat treatment.  I have no idea what gauge the wire may be as it simply used to be sold by hardware and farmers' supplies stores as either "thin" or "heavy" piano wire and the wire I use is "thin", but certainly not fine.

For the geometrically inclined, the distance between the outer extremities of two pieces of chuck jaw with the spring in place but out of compression should be a little more than the length of a side of an equilateral triangle whose points touch the circumference of a circle equal to the circumference of a section of the chuck shell at its greatest. 

The springs were made, the chuck reassembled and I was one happy chap.

Screwed the chuck to the spindle. It went on for about 3/4" and then bound firmly.  Bugger!  Threads must need cleaning.  Out with the Stanley knife, drill body held in the vice, and away we go chasing the spindle's threads with the knife's point. Not much gunk emerges.  Small wire brush and kerosene used to clean out the chuck's thread. Not much gunk here, either.  Oil the spindle and screw the chuck back on.  Ah!  Goes on much more easily - for 3/4", that is, when it binds again.  Doubts start to form.

Spindle is 3/8" in diameter and thread gauge, hastily found and applied, says it is 20 TPI.  Thread gauge also says that thread of chuck is 18 TPI.  Arrrrrgghh, hornswoggled!  What about me five bucks? Might as well have used it to make cartridge wads.

Close inspection of drill and chuck and a bit of rust removal by sandpaper bring me no closer to discovering the identity of the maker of either, only the identity of the place where a silver-paper label once was glued to the drill and either the number 138 or the initials BET (depending on which way one looks at things) moulded on the lower casting of the drill.

What, hereafter, is to be my approach to the fleasters?  "Doan happen to have a 3/8" with 20 tpi chuck layin' 'round, do yer?"  "How yer fixed for chuckless drills with a 3/8" spindle at 18 tpi?"  Furtive production of measuring calipers and thread gauge and taking measurements of drills and chucks when fleaster is not looking?  (When was the last time a fleaster was not looking?)  Becoming known far and wide as that mad old bastard who measures every drill and chuck he sees but never buys one?  "Used t' be a good customer 'til his horse kicked him in the head or summat!"

Somehow or other I have to resign myself to having been hornswoggled, principally by myself, but it ain't going to be easy.

Regards from Brisbane,
John Manners

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