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View Full Version : Do you make your own step blocks?



MrDan
02-22-2010, 10:29 PM
So as I've mentioned here before, I'm brand new to machining and am still outfitting my shop. I have all the big stuff (mill, lathe, etc), plus I have all the calipers, micrometers, etc.

My question is, am I a fool for ordering step blocks, etc for clamping work to the table? I currently own a couple of c clamps and that's about it for what will work on metal (all my clamps are for woodworking). Are step blocks just mild steel and I should just go in and make my own or since I'm basically starting from scratch should I order a small set to get me started, then make new ones as I need them for each project till I have an assortment? I like the idea of starting with new because it means I have things sized appropriately but they seem so simple that if I can't make them, maybe I'm not ready to make something more critical.

FYI, I can grab any amount of scrap steel from our surplus steel bin at work so if these things are just mild steel, I can work with parts taken off of tractors (usually good quality steel in good shape), cut them down to size and then machine them so basically all I'll have is labor invested. I have to think that clamping isn't the most precise part of what we do, excepting getting stuff clamped rigidly and properly so as long as the clamps hold, that's enough??

Tim Clarke
02-22-2010, 11:02 PM
The cheapy hold down kit I have for my BP mill was cheap, and I had it all at once. They seem to be hardened, maybe case hardened but it's tough to file off burrs. When I got my Sheldon horizontal the stuff for the big mill was too big for the small t-slots and tiny table. I've made up whatever I've needed out of whatever was handy at the time, including Aluminum. They work just fine. If you gave the metal, and the urge to make chips, go for it.

TC

fishfrnzy
02-22-2010, 11:02 PM
IMO, while making your tooling is fun and making stuff for cheap is even more fun it is hard to justify the time spent for this when you can buy a hold down set on sale from Enco for 30-40 bucks with free freight coupon code. I spent 20-30 minutes cobling together stuff every time I wanted to hold something down plus if you just go to HD and buy a selection of 1/2" bolts, nuts, and washers you'll be out most of that anyway and you will still have to slot a bunch of flat bar or segements of heavywall tube. I'm sure you will get some opinions of those more experinced.

Spandau
02-22-2010, 11:22 PM
You can buy them much cheaper than you can make them, depending on what you consider your time to be worth. They can be a good learning project, but why spend your time making something you can buy on the cheap?

IMO, buy a hold down kit and spend your time making things with a greater fun factor....

Ken_Shea
02-22-2010, 11:23 PM
Dan,
Not really a right or wrong to this, however, I am with fishfrnzy,
They are just to cheap to fool with making them, now after you purchase them, go to http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net/showthread.php?t=39202

Look through this array of incredible work and spend your time that would have been spent on hold down clamps to make something wonderful from these ideas.

Ken

bob ward
02-23-2010, 03:09 AM
One of the best pieces of advice I picked up from this board is that when (if) you buy your mill hold downs, buy 2 sets, because there is never enough of what you need in one set.

MrDan
02-23-2010, 06:04 AM
Excellent feedback. Thank you. I looked at a set they had at McMaster Carr and they certainly weren't 30-40 bucks. I'm going to head over to Enco and see what they have.

Thanks

SGW
02-23-2010, 08:31 AM
A lot depends on what size you need. My mill has 9/16" table slots, the T-nuts take 3/8" studs, and the hold-down set for it cost me at least 2X what the set for 5/8" table slots (Bridgeport-size) would have.

I agree with the others though -- buy the things, even if the price seems high. If it's a decent set, they will be hardened and you'll have a rack to keep everything in.

Ken_Shea
02-23-2010, 08:41 AM
Just saw them somewhere for $25, didn't need them so did not pay any attention as to where.
Yes to what Bob Ward said.

http://www.cdcotools.com/ all sizes $38

Carld
02-23-2010, 08:42 AM
I guess your talking about a clamp set for holding stuff on a mill table such as in this link http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?PMPAGE=740&PMCTLG=00.

If so then buy them, they are hardened and there are import brands that are cheaper and just as good. Use you time to make some important more expensive accessories.

Mcgyver
02-23-2010, 08:45 AM
Excellent feedback. Thank you. I looked at a set they had at McMaster Carr and they certainly weren't 30-40 bucks. I'm going to head over to Enco and see what they have.

Thanks


the step blocks are the dumb part, with a more expensive set you're getting, or should be, better grade steel in the bolts and threaded parts so they'll stand up.

Ken_Shea
02-23-2010, 08:50 AM
the step blocks are the dumb part, with a more expensive set you're getting, or should be, better grade steel in the bolts and threaded parts so they'll stand up.

McGyver,
Am sure that true but these cheap sets are HARD, HARD, HARD, maybe to a fault, still have never bent, broken or stripped any in many years.

Mcgyver
02-23-2010, 09:13 AM
I haven't stripped or broken any either, several of the nuts have mushroomed over requiring a regrind or dont fit welll in the first place; i guess with a good set i'd expect less hassles like that The one i've had problems with is a Teco which i thought was sort of mid quality; its only 3/8", larger ones have been fine. I guess my point was as you moved down the scale toward the worst India and China have to offer, its probably not the step blocks where you'd notice a difference

Ken_Shea
02-23-2010, 09:19 AM
What is a bit interesting to me is that I have had these clamping sets for about 17-20 years and believe I paid $25 for them then.

Almost like the cheap 4x6 horizontal/vertical bandsaws, must have bought that 25-30 years ago and paid $199, I still think you can get then for that same amount.

MrDan
02-23-2010, 12:07 PM
I guess your talking about a clamp set for holding stuff on a mill table such as in this link http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?PMPAGE=740&PMCTLG=00.

If so then buy them, they are hardened and there are import brands that are cheaper and just as good. Use you time to make some important more expensive accessories.

Holy cow. I just looked at our Fastenal book, after having looked at McMaster Carr. Both places are in the $250 range for set similar to what is pictured. On your link at Enco they are $29.95! Now that's change I can believe in and I can afford to get two sets. Not so at $250 a set.

I haven't had time to get out to the shop and measure my slot size. My Bridgeport J model is 5/8 based on the feedback??

Black_Moons
02-23-2010, 01:08 PM
I bought two sets at $50 each, the 1/2" stud set and 3/8" stud set because my rotary table uses 3/8" T slots and my mill uses 1/2", the extra holddowns do come in handy sometimes.

Id highly recommend buying the basic set, though one of my T nuts was oversized the rest of the set is pertty well made, I can't see making those dozens of odd angled steps in perfictly spaceing being easy (did you know the steps are angled so that pressure on the blocks pushs the steps togethor? Not just against eachother)

If you wanna make some holddowns, id recommend making cooler hold downs.
like these guys: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mrwizard/wkshps/thmbs/clamp.jpg
(Not really pictured there but theres usally a round pivot under the top bolt to allow the bottom to swivel easily)

While they look hard to make, realise they don't need accuracy.


Nifty, found instructions for step blocks: http://www.sherline.com/3013inst.htm

Carld
02-23-2010, 01:09 PM
Several tool suppliers have reasonably priced clamping sets and I have used the expensive and the cheap ones and find them both to be more than adequate. I have three sets of clamps and a box full of extras from buying new and at auctions.

danlb
02-23-2010, 03:10 PM
My first exercise on my micromill was to make Some micro sized step blocks. It's harder than it looks. They typically rest on only one or two of the steps.... But they do work.

Commercial step blocks are so cheap I'd never make them again.

Dan

Robin R
02-23-2010, 03:32 PM
Shars is another source. http://www.shars.com/products/view/583/58quot__12quot13_52pc_Clamping_Kit

knudsen
02-23-2010, 05:10 PM
This is a good set: http://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=1268&category=1963256902

or

http://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=3667&category=1963256902

And they have starter kits (out of stock... call 'em): http://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_category.php?category=-74669629

LMS is your friend if you have smaller or mini lathe/mill

TheAndroid
02-23-2010, 07:01 PM
This is sort of on subject, but has anyone noticed those nifty supports that Rudy Kouhoupt used before he passed? They appear to be about seven inches of 1/8" x 1" tabs of hot rolled stacked together and held with an axle. In use, you could swing away the ones you didn't need. I've always liked those but haven't had the time to build any. Maybe it's time for a pre-spring project!

knudsen
02-23-2010, 08:09 PM
Love to see it Andy, uh Roid? TA? Andy is probably best.:o

wooleybooger
02-23-2010, 09:04 PM
the hold-down clamps i would buy. a lot of stuff i make because its good practice for measuring,work-holding,and repetitive set-ups. an old tightwad friend always says: the only thing you learn by buying something is how tough the tape is they sealed the box with.

PixMan
02-23-2010, 09:24 PM
If I didn't already have a full set of the cheap Enco ones, I'd be saving my pennies to buy the upgrade Te-Co set. I've had them in my hands and the quality improvement over the cheapies is quite evident. You'd have to be a luggage monkey to over-torque the Te-Co's. ;)

lazlo
02-23-2010, 09:37 PM
This is sort of on subject, but has anyone noticed those nifty supports that Rudy Kouhoupt used before he passed? They appear to be about seven inches of 1/8" x 1" tabs of hot rolled stacked together and held with an axle.

I bought two sets of those (MSC) -- I love them. Can't remember what they're called.


I'd be saving my pennies to buy the upgrade Te-Co set.

I have a set of each, and agree -- the Te-Co set is nicer. Made from stressproof, and the threads on the studs and bolts are much cleaner.