Drill Press Restoration

September 22, 2014 § 4 Comments

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Sometime last year (or maybe it was the year before) I bought a vintage Walker Turner drill press off Craigslist. It was in good shape overall – nothing cracked or broken, just a fair amount of surface rust and grime. It was in working condition but I decided to do a complete restoration job anyway.

Restoration (or in some cases rehabilitation) projects can be very rewarding as well as educational. There is no better way to learn how a machine works than by completely dismantling it piece by piece, and then putting it all back together. When these older machines were built (in this case 1939), no part of them—not even the smallest screw—was built for obsolescence. Cleaning and re-using the original parts is a nod to the workers who made these fine machines. With this machine almost all the parts were still there. As I recall the only pieces missing were the knurled depth stops and one jam nut on the handle. A machinist friend turned some new depth stops and the jam nut was an easy hardware store replacement. The bearings were in good shape – all spun freely and cleaned up nicely. There were two open bearings which I simply repacked with grease. Although the paint wasn’t in terrible shape, I decided to repaint the main castings in a similar green. I brushed on the paint instead of spraying, and I actually like the little bit of texture it gives the cast iron. The Jacobs 33 chuck is such an industry standard that Jacobs still makes its chuck key.

I’ve restored a few machines now, and as such I’ve learned a few things. Here are some thoughts that may help someone ready to tackle their own project.

  • In an ideal world you do the restoration in one fell swoop, without any other projects vying for your time. For no matter how well you document the dismantling with pictures and notes, your memory of how things went together is invaluable. The more time between taking things apart and putting them back together, the more likely you will forget crucial information. That said…
  • Take plenty of pictures and notes when dismantling a tool. Sometimes your memory can easily mix things up, and a photograph can be irrefutable.
  • Get an exploded diagram parts list. This is almost mandatory for anything that has more than 10 parts. The great volunteers and contributors at Vintage Machinery have compiled original manuals and parts lists for countless vintage woodworking machines – all free to download. (And while you are there, consider dropping a few coins in their donation box).
  • Label or number all your parts as you lay them out to be cleaned. The easiest method is to just number them according to the parts diagram. Parts can look very similar, and if everything is clearly labeled, in theory you could come back in a year and resume your work.
  • I have a box of wire brushes, worn out sandpaper, picks, and other things that I bust out for a restoration project. They are all useful, but the single best accessory for making metal parts look new again is a wire wheel on a powered grinder. The brass wire wheels from Lee Valley are just terrific and save countless hours of scrubbing.
  • Think about your health. Wear gloves, set up a fan for ventilation, open the windows, work outside if you can. Restoration projects are messy and will require any number of chemicals – WD-40, mineral spirits, grease, liquid wrench, etc.
  • Get a scrap piece of soundboard or plywood and do all your work on that. Don’t do on it your nice bench, or even your not-so-nice bench. You could put plastic down but working on plastic is annoying.
  • Pick your battles. With this drill press there were a few things I didn’t do. I didn’t paint the underside of the base. I didn’t take apart the motor and replace the windings and bearings. I didn’t take apart the chuck because it only had surface rust and spun freely. If you’re afraid of screwing something up, ask yourself if it will really affect the use of the machine. In my case the motor sounded good so I decided not to open that Pandora’s box. At the end of the day your tool will be used, not placed on display at the Smithsonian.
  • Don’t obsess about paint color. If you need to re-paint the tool, take comfort in the knowledge that many manufacturers tweaked their colors over the years. For example, the Delta “blue” is not a single blue that was used for 80 years. Look up examples on Vintage Machinery, see what others have done with a web search, and pick something close. And hell, if you want to paint that vintage Delta a nice shade of hot pink, go for it. Purists will have a fit but it’s your tool.

Below are some pictures of the process and the restored drill press. Of course I completely forgot to take a nice series of “before” pictures. Let’s just say it looked like below, but with a nice layer of rust and tarnish on nearly every exposed surface. Next on the docket is a mitre box, and then a small Delta jointer.

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Typical setup during restoration

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Laying out parts

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Table and base with metal primer

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Pinion after brass wheel. It looked brand new.

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An invaluable source of information (and inspiration) for this restoration came from Bill Nance (skizzo) and his classic Woodnet thread from four years ago. I actually printed the entire thread to a pdf and referred to it often. If all forum threads were this good I would probably visit them more often.

With most things in woodworking, whatever you’ve done chances are that Jameel Abraham has done it better. Here are pictures of his restoration of a beautiful old Powermatic drill press.




§ 4 Responses to Drill Press Restoration

  • Nice job on the rehab. I liked the tips and I’ll try to remember them when I do mine.

  • Tico Vogt says:

    That looks sensational. I bought the same model a few years ago. The original owner was a pattern maker in Vermont. I replaced the chuck and changed out the belt with a link belt. I use the drill press constantly and this Walker Turner model is a champion. Your restoration certainly does it justice.

    My next product is an aftermarket drill press fence, hopefully coming out before too long.

    • Eric Bushèe says:

      Thanks, Tico. They really are fine machines. No plastic or die-cast pot metal parts, just a good, honest machine. Yes, as you can see I need to fashion a table and fence. Good luck with your drill press fence. That sounds interesting.

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