Shop Notes

This page contains a sloppy collection of thoughts, ideas and basic nonsense that I have come up with during my journey to become a home gunsmith. You will find short details on stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else on the web site. Most of these ideas came from my "Shop Notebook" and from posts I made on other sites, or answers to e-mails.. I'll be adding to this section as I go along, so check back from time to time if you want.... The shop notebook is just a 3 ring binder that stores all my notes and doodles, but maybe some of it will be of interest to others.......(and maybe not).



It’s cheaper to do it yourself
“How to sell it to your wife”

 Lets start out by discussing the real issue. Anyone that’s considering getting into home gunsmithing should have a realistic understanding of the costs involved. So with that in mind let me just say this….it’s NOT cheaper to do it yourself….no wait it IS cheaper to do it yourself……no wait SOMETIMES it’s cheaper to do it yourself. Hhhmmmm confused yet. Lets clear this up shall we.

When I first decided to start doing my own “serious” home gunsmithing I wasn’t really sure if it was going to be cost effective or not. I sat down with a calculator and a stack of catalogs and started running the numbers. I’ll explain what I found out so you can decide for yourself if you want to get into this fun stuff. Understand that all my figures are based upon the Actual project that I completed in October when I built 2 custom Sistema 1911 style pistols. I have the receipts to prove my math gang !

I started with basically nothing, so you can adjust my figures to reflect your starting point. I began with only a small workbench and some very basic hand tools (generic stuff, not gunsmithing tools).

It was going to cost me a whopping $2486.77 to build one custom hand-made pistol. This would include having to purchase every conceivable tool including a milling machine…ouch ! I’m not made of money so the idea of having 25 hundred wrapped up in a single gun was pretty scary to me. Hey what if I totally suck at this gunsmithing stuff and I screw up the gun…..

In this scenario I would have to buy all the tools, machines, parts etc, and all I would have to show for the money would be one pistol, the tools and a great learning experience. (plus a lot of fun of course). Even so I just couldn’t justify the outlay.

 I have seen some nice 1911’s (Ed Brown, Kimber, Les Baer etc) that sell for around 1500.00 bucks and they are (in my opinion) very nice indeed. I could see myself buying a high quality pistol some day….yep, I like the toys and the custom touches that these high end pistols have. Stuff you just don’t see on a base model Colt or Springfield. So the idea of having 1500.00 in a pistol didn’t scare me all that much. Particularly if I didn’t have to pay that all up front. Add into the equation all the tools, machines, fun and knowledge and ok I’m sold. I’ll pay-as-I-go until I get to 15 hundred bucks…IF and only if, I also get all those other things with the deal. Understand that after you buy the tools….you don’t have to do it again, and you get to “keep em”….hahaha

So, I had a realistic “Goal” in mind. I wanted to be into a custom 1911 with every single conceivable option (you know a real beauty) for about 15 bills. I also decided that I couldn’t spend more than 500 bucks in any one month time period….and much less most times. I broke everything down into imaginary “shipments” and totaled how much each one would cost. Then I decided on a time line. EXAMPLE: I need the milling machine before I can cut front cocking serrations…..but I won’t be ready to do that for a while, so I’ll start slowly (and cheap) and see how it goes. I can stop at any time, and just “keep what I got” or I can choose to move forward. The key here is to break-up your project in such a way that you can stop at any time and still have a fully functional pistol. If you decide to stop….you simply keep the tools that you have gotten so far, and you wait to see if the pistol is what you envisioned……if not. Move to the next level.

 Ok…so you now know what was going on in my mind and what my initial plan was. Here is how the math had to work. It would have cost $2486.77 to do one pistol. Or it would cost $3020.29 to do two pistols or it would cost $3553.81 to do three pistols. (all these numbers are to build MY PERSONAL “dream gun” you should visit my Sistema project pages to find out what I built…your dream gun will probably be much different. Your parts choices etc…. Just suffice to say that I spared no expense on my dream guns. They have S&A magwells and even those ridiculously expensive Carbon Fiber grips….you’ll save money if you decide on something less exotic. With the above numbers it would mean that I have to build 2 guns (3020.00) in order to come out to 1500.00 per gun (my goal)……ok…fine with me, so I get 2 guns not just 1 hahahah.

In all my math equations I came to the same answer every time. You break-even at 2 “highend decked out” pistols, or at 3 “very nice” custom shooters. So before you go full tilt boogie into this stuff, ask yourself this question. Do I want to do at least 2 guns ? (eventually, not necessarily at the same time like I did) If you answer no….then you are better off paying a professional gunsmith to do the work for you OR you should buy a Les Baer. But remember, you will be giving up the other stuff I told you about….like all the tools, knowledge and fun…..they are worth an awful lot, believe me.( Come on...who out there said NO they don't want at least 2 more guns someday?)

After you do those first “break-even” guns…all the rest are so much cheaper to make. I can now build a hard-core bad a$$ pistol for under 500 bucks, and I don’t mean a basic no frills thing either. So keep that in mind.

Don’t let all this scare you away. You DO NOT have to try to come up with 3 grand all at once (heck I’d have never been able to do that). You just pay as you go. The biggest check I ever had to write was for 527.00 (in one lump) and that’s only if you decide to go all the way and get your own milling machine. Spread it out over several months and you’ll find out that it ain't that expensive. I don’t know of any Gun Dealer anywhere in the country that would have allowed me to buy 2 custom pistols over time a few bucks here and there, while having them in my possession all the while. Makes you think huh? Come on you KNOW you want to try it……if I can do it you can too. (you really can).

Ok, so is it really cheaper to do it yourself or is it cheaper to have a professional do it. The answer is:…….

YES (haha)




Setting up shop
Garage Sanctuary

 One of the first things you will need to do when you get started with home gunsmithing is to set up “the perfect workshop” ahhhhh, just the thought of my beloved shop makes me warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the last bastion of sanctity for the home gunsmith and a haven to retreat to in times of stress. Just lock yourself away for a few hours, surround yourself with gun parts and the sweet smell of Hoppes No.9….put on your favorite music, and feel the stress of the day melt away…… ** Screech **   What do you mean you don’t have a workshop?….hmmm lets try to remedy that shall we?

 The first thing you will need is a “space” to work. This could be a separate building like a Bull Shed, or it could be a corner of your garage or it could be a “special spot” inside the house. I lived in an apartment for many years before I finally got a house, so I know it can be done. (I used a spare bedroom and setup a workbench inside the apartment).

 Here is a look at the area I chose to convert into my workshop. It started out as a corner of the garage where I could “stack my crap” (as Mrs. Ryan calls it)…

 Pretty hopeless looking in the beginning huh? You may need to design your work area around the rest of your space so that it can still be used for other less important things (anything else is less important hahaha). In my case, I had to come up with a design that would allow me maximum shop space and still allow for BOTH cars to be pulled into the garage at night. Not an easy task when you consider that my wife and I both own full sized SUV’s……so I designed everything in an “L” shape and kept the benches and tools as flat against the walls as possible. By using cabinets, hooks, pegboard ect…you can hang a lot of your tools and other supplies on the walls and free up a lot of floor space. Also try to think of ways to “stack” your benches and tools. An example is…I have a large gasoline powered generator that needed to fit into my workshop area. I built a wooden cover for it and now it doubles as a small table fixture for my sandblast cabinet.

 It’s a good idea to start out with a floor plan before you get too far into the build-up. All you really need is a piece of paper that outlines where everything will fit. This does a lot more than just keep you organized….it pretty much FORCES you to examine how the work area will be used. I try to “group” things into little miniature workshops, all with something in common. An example is when I installed the milling machine and the Lathe close together….this creates a “dirty” area of the shop, where cutting fluid, metal shavings and dust will collect. I then place my “assembly” area in a different location. And my “blasting” area somewhere else…etc , etc…you get the idea. It also makes sense to build and design your shop with a layout that will allow you to do several different operations at the same time, without having to clean the same area and re-setup….example: I can go from disassembly (main bench) to bead blaster (off to the right) and straight to the mill (on the left) without having to disturb my parts. This is handy when you have to do something like…oh say….cutting dovetails for new sights. Disassemble first…leave the parts on your bench…go to the blaster….mill the dovetails….back to the cleaning table…etc. All without having to move everything around.

 Ok… by this point you are saying to yourself…geez, are you kidding? How much room do you think I have anyways?……If you do a good job of thinking about the layout and draw everything out on paper first. You will be surprised how small of an area you can fit your shop into. I have an entire workshop, fully stocked with all the stuff I need and it fits into a corner that measures 5 x 10….that’s NOT 5 feet by 10 feet square…only the CORNER is used, and even then I have to share the space with a big-ole water heater. Here is a picture of the completed design. Notice how everything fits together.

 Oh yeah….one last thing. Never underestimate the value of good lighting. I have lights everywhere in the shop and I use em all…..under the hanging cabinets, on the ceiling, attached to the mill, inside the blast cabinet, over the bench grinder…etc. Light is our friend.

Good luck with your workshop designs…….remember you are designing “paradise” so take your time.

--- For additional information Visit the "Workshop" section on this website --

What the Heck is an 80% frame anyways?


An 80% frame is actually a "special case" with the BATF and it applies to metal castings that are used to form the basis for gun parts. In this case what we are talking about is a metal casting that has been "almost" completed. It was cast and then all the milling work was done to it.....but they stopped before they cut the slide rails (or any other combo of cuts that add up to 20% of the milling steps). Because the manufacturer stopped working on the piece BEFORE he/she finished it....this piece is still in a state of limbo so to isn't really a "Gun" but it isn't really a raw hunk of metal either.

The castings do NOT have any serial numbers or roll marks on them (normally the last step in the manufacturing process). In this form they are still considered to be just pieces of metal as far as the BATF and the Brady bill are concerned. If the manufacturer takes them 1 more step further...then they are subject to all the laws of the land that apply to firearms. Remember that as far as the ATF is concerned...the frame/receiver IS the firearm....and everything else is just parts.

So it is perfectly legal to order an 80% frame/receiver from the distributor and there is no paperwork at all involved. You do not need to be an FFL dealer, anyone that wants one can just call and give their credit card number and *poof* out it goes in the mail.

Ok.....sounds really cool huh? So what's the rub? Well the bottom line is...YOU (and only you) have to finish the final machining process on it yourself. There are no serial numbers and the firearm (once it is complete)can NEVER....let me say that again so you understand it...NEVER, EVER be sold to anyone else....period ! It is a firearm for "personal use only" and the only other living soul that you may legally give it to would be an heir (to your son in your will for instance).

If you do it this way (build it yourself) then you are acting as a firearms manufacturer and that is perfectly legal as long as it is for personal use only. Kinda like it's legal to make all the homemade wine/beer that you want as long as it is not for resale....(well same basic idea any ways).

You can do the frame rails (in the case of a Colt 1911) with only a file if you want to but it would take a long time. I happen to have a Grizzly mini-mill so I'll be milling mine out the last 20% like the professionals do. (the mini-mill is a great investment and they cost less than 500 bucks brand new).

There are 80% casting available for Colt 1911's, AR-15's, FAL's, Sig P-228's, PPK's and many other styles.(another reason to buy your own Mill haha). You would just need to buy a parts kit to complete your new gun.

With a little bit of Do-it-yourself attitude and few pointers from someone who knows what they are doing....anyone can build one for themselves. I will be outlining step-by-step (with tons of pictures) how to complete a Colt 1911 stainless steel commander length .45 as my next project.

Hope you will follow along.....take care, and hope that helps.

Here is a picture of a 1911 casting at 80% complete. (they also sell 40% complete and RAW.....but hey that's too much work for me.. hahahaha

** NOTE ** All of this assumes that it would otherwise be legal for you to own a firearm. If you can not legally own a firearm then you can not legally build one either...

Here is a link to the actual BATF website and a paragraph that addresses the 80% issue:

Milling Question from Big Rounds

> Hey, just wanted to say I really like your site!! It has given me the
> BUG. I wanted to ask a few ?'s about your TT mill. First? : Does it have
> a through the arbor quill? How many colletts came with? What other
> accessory's were included? and what power supply {120 or 220}. THANKS
> and damn you : ) for what I am about to spend. I saw you are going to
> post a page with your review but couldn't wait, I went to your link but
> still had these ?'s. For real this time THANKS for your inspiration.
> RC Hayes
> AKA Big Rounds

Hi RC:

Thanks for the feedback. I'm really glad you are enjoying the site. It has
been a lot of fun, and not nearly as hard as I had thought it would be.

To answer your questions about the mill. Let me start off by saying that I
think this is probably the absolute best mill you could hope for if you are
interested in Home Smithing. When I first started this project I had to take
a leap of faith and hope that it would actually do all the things I needed
it to do. I couldn't find anyone that could tell me for sure if it would be
up to the task or not. All the experts said to buy a "Bridgeport" mill, but
I didn't have the 5,000.00 or the I decided to chance it and
give the Griz a try.

As you can tell by the website, this little puppy CAN do the stuff I need it
to do. What you can not tell by the pictures is the ease with which it does
it. The motor has way more than enough power for anything I can foresee
needing. (keep in mind I only need it for Gunsmithing work).

The mill comes with 2 collets included, a 3/8 and a 1/2 so you would be able
to use any cutters that are available in those two shanks sizes right away. I also
bought a separate 1/4 collet but I haven't needed it yet. I find that nearly
everything I use is in 3/8 shank size. It also comes with the following

5 - double end wrenches (every size used on the machine)
1 - drawbar
1 - Quill stop pin
2 - collets (3/8 and 1/2)
1 - plastic oil can
1 - Users manual
2 - T-Nuts
2 - 10mm rods (they fit the T-Nuts)
5 - Allen wrenches (every size used on the machine)

The Quill is a MT #3 which is a very common size. I have had no trouble
finding collets or end mill holders in this size. Even the local machine
shop supply place here in Tampa has MT #3 accessories. It is not as common
as R8 but it must be like 2nd or 3rd most common because everyone seems to
have the stuff. (But only in 3/8 x 16T) The Quill is full length through.

Here is something you should know about though........

The drawbar threads are 12mm (its made in China and uses metric) so all
those collets are harder to find.....However all you need to do is just buy
a 2 dollar piece of 3/8 threaded rod and a couple of 3/8 nuts and then you
can order the more common 3/8 American thread collets (which I did).....I
figured why bother looking for special threads when all I need is a 3/8 I made one. Of course the ones that come with the machine are
just fine too. If you buy the threaded rod, then you can use basically any MT3
collet or holder known to man. (either 12mm or 3/8) Grizzly always seems to stay sold out of 12mm threaded end mill holders..)

As always I have gotten way too long winded and probably put you to

Let me know if there is anything else I can answer for you.

Take Care:
PvtRyan (aka: Frank)

Milling Machine Initial Set-Up and Cleaning.

I've had to learn about my new Mini-Mill the hard way ever since the day it arrived. The manual that comes with it is just a couple pages of poorly translated basic non-sense, so in order to actually perform any maintenance on the thing I've had to "figure it out" for myself. Below are some notes that outline the initial set-up and cleaning steps I used. If you are new to the Mini-Mill then this is a really good place to start. It shows you how to disassemble the machine and how to set it up so it runs true and accurate. It also acts as a good intro to what the darn thing is....

Oh that wonderful day when the mill finally comes packaged in a nice wooden box. The machine is bolted down to the base of the box so you will need to remove the bolts before you throw your back out trying to lift it out. (don't ask how I know this hahaha). Be sure to keep the hex head bolts that hold it down, they fit the T-nuts for your table. I had to end up disassembling the whole box by removing the top and all 4 sides in order to get it unbolted. 

Inside you will find all the assessories and parts....but everything (and I mean everything) will be completely covered with red goo. Here is a picture of how mine looked when I took the top off.


You need to clean off all the red goo and replace it with your favorite brand of lube, grease etc and you'll probably also need to set the gib screws so everything operates smoothly. The red preservative (aka: Goo) is not really meant to act as a lubricant. It is only there to keep the metal parts from rusting during storage and shipping. So no matter how tempting it may be to just plug it in a start cutting, you run the risk of screwing something up if you don't go through the set-up process first......(darn it). Of coarse the manual says nothing about any of this, it's just something I've learned about new machines......

In order to clean everything up, you will need to completely disassemble the machine including removing the table and the saddle so you can get at all the goo on the inside and replace it with a good coat of something else. The manual has no mention of how to do this so I'll try to explain it (along with 30 pictures hahaha). The first time I performed this disassembly I had no idea what I was doing, and it took a while to figure out how the damn thing comes apart. I have since performed this whole process 3 more times and I picked up a couple tricks to save time (and my fingers).

Before I get to the disassembly steps, you should have a few items on hand and give them some thought. You will need a good quality lube/grease and some sort of cleaning agent to strip off all the red goo. I used kerosene the first time and although it works very well, it sucks having to brush, dunk, wipe etc......I have since discovered the "wonder cleaner" called brake cleaner. I just hose it down with brake cleaner spray and the crud literally runs off instantly and then flash dries. You may have to wipe it with a shop rag after you spray it but that's about all.(wipe off the big globs with paper towels before you even start) As far as a lube/grease.....I have tried 2 different types and like them both almost equally well. But each one has it's use. I used white lithium grease the first time, and I love the way it makes the table "feel" as it glides along it's tracks. If you live in a low humidity area then definitely use the white lithium (available in tubes at Sears, or in spray cans at Home Depot). I eventually had to switch to using R.I.G. (rust inhibiting grease) because of the humidity. It doesn't have quite the same feel as the white lithium but it does a better job of protecting the exposed metal parts. (available from Brownell's). ** Note ** The white lithium also helps cut down on the amount of metal shavings that "stick" to the parts. For some reason the RIG acts as a magnet and grabs all the little shavings......weird huh?

You don't need any special tools at all to disassemble the machine(just a phillips screwdriver). Everything else you need comes with the mill. So here goes.....

Start by removing the rubber chip guards (front and back) and place them off to the side. No need for a picture of this step, they are just held on by a couple phillips screws. Next, loosen (don't remove them) the gib screws on the front of the table. You will need to loosen the lock nuts first, then back the screws off about half way. The table comes off from the right side by simply "unscrewing" it from the rest of the machine. Turn the hand wheel on the right side and move the table all the way to the right. You will feel resistance when the bolt is getting ready to come out of the big brass nut (on the bottom side). Once you start to feel it getting hard to turn don't panic, you aren't hurting anything. Keep cranking until the handle turns free and the table stops moving (that means it's out of the threads). Hold the table with your hand so it dosen't tilt or fall off, and try to pull the gib strip out from the left side. The reason I say to remove the gib strip is to allow the table to have some "play" inside the dovetail....if you do this then you do not need to remove the big brass nut that holds the table screw. If you remove the nut you have to take the table apart piece-by-piece to get at it.....(trust me it's a pain in the arse) this is one of those "tips" I was telling you about. Ok now you can take the table off by slightly lifting the right edge and pull. Hose it down with some brake cleaner and let it sit out of the way while we do the saddle.

To remove the saddle, start by removing the 2 hex bolts that hold the hand wheel assembly to the mill frame. Once you get those bolts out you can unscrew the saddle the same way you did the table.....just keep on crankin. As you unscrew the saddle screw, you will notice that the bolt keeps getting longer and longer. Push the saddle back (towards the back of the machine) every few seconds to keep the bolt from getting "wobbly" as it comes out. Then remove the bolt and set it aside. Loosen the gib screws on the right side of the saddle (same as the table screws). Before the saddle will slide off, you will need to loosen the "big nut screw" on the front of the saddle, the nut will drop down out the bottom.....then the saddle will slide right off the front of the dovetail. Don't forget to pick up the big nut that just dropped'll need it later hahaha.

Next....get ready to clean off the goo. Just start cleaning everything in sight. You should have full access to all the nooks and crannies now so get working. Or you could just hose it down with brake cleaner.... This is how it should look when you get her all cleaned up.

Next apply your grease of choice to all the moving surfaces, lead threads (the threads on the 2 big bolt thingees) and dovetails. If you are using lithium grease then you should only apply it to the moving parts, threads and dovetail ways.....but dampen a rag with some motor oil and rub it on the other exposed surfaces just to avoid rust. Just a thin coat is all.

To re-assemble, just do everything in the reverse order. The only "trick" you will need to know about has to do with putting the "big nut" back on....(guess how many times I screwed this up before I figured it out?) Just slide the saddle back in place first. Then put the bolt back through the hole in the front of the frame. Then start the first few threads (about a half inch) of the big nut onto the bolt.(don't screw it in very far). *NOTE* the flat section should point UP. Now pull on the bolt and tilt your end up (so the big nut goes down) and hook it back into it's notch on the saddle. Be sure to check the set screw that holds the big nut in don't want it tight at all, if you tighten it too much it will be hard to turn the hand wheel, just snug it a little and then try turning the hand wheel, it should be smooth and easy. All the adjustment comes from the gib strips anyways, so don't worry if it feels like it's turning too easy at this point.


After you have the mill all cleaned up and put back together, you will need to make some basic adjustments to ensure that it works smoothly and so that you can get a good level of accuracy out of it. The adjustments I am talking about have to do with removing any play from the sliding parts of the mill. The table, saddle and head assembly all need to be adjusted. When you perform these adjustments you need to try to balance between "ease of movement" and "precision" unfortunately the two tend to work against each other. If you have everything greased up and lubed before you attempt this it makes things much easier.

All the adjustments are made by tightening or loosening the gib screws. Those are the little hex head screw thingees located on the front (table adjustment) the right side (saddle adjustment) and the right side of the mill head (head adjustment). You want to loosen the lcok nuts on all of the screws before you begin. Try to tighten each screw to the same amount of pressure. You don't want to have one in real tight and the others loose. Just a little dab-L-do-ya so tighten the screws a tiny bit at a time. Then check to see how hard it is to turn the hand wheel for that axis. I like to have mine tight enough to feel a slight bit of resistance but not enough to make it hard to turn with just my pinky finger. The tighter the screws are the less "slop" you will have on that particular axis of movement. However if you get it too tight then you will wear the gib strips and the lead screws out prematurely, so it's a balancing act. After you get the screws tightened to a level you like, snug down the locking nuts on each one. Be sure to put the hex wrench in the end of the screw so it doesn't turn along with the lock nut.

I have found that my "pinky gauge" works pretty well to help balance the two. I always LOCK any axis that does not need to be moved during a cut. So if I am cutting a dovetail for instance.....I would set the depth and everything, but before starting the cut I would LOCK the head, and the table using the little black lever looking things. This leaves only the saddle to be able to move. If the gibs are adjusted correctly then the moving axis will not have any slop in it either. This makes for a very precise cut. If I have to cut using 2 separate axis, then I just lock and unlock when I get to that movement. There should only ever be one axis unlocked at a time.

** A little note ** about the black axis locking levers. These are pretty cool. They each have a small spring inside that allows you to pull outward on the lever and rotate it without screwing the bolt any tighter, this allows you to "ratchet" the locking bolt to make it nice and tight. The same process works in reverse to loosen it. Otherwise you would be limited to only about a half turn of the locking lever (particularly on the table because of the tight fit)......try it you'll like it.

Adding a "Kool Mist" system to the mini-mill

I decided to add an automatic coolant delivery system to the mini-mill for use in my next project. I got real tired of having to squirt the mill cutter and work piece with blasts of cutting fluid every few seconds. The little cans of cutting fluid that I was buying were starting to really add up. They cost 9.95 each and it makes me switch hands during the feeding process so I can spray the cutting fluid (I'm right handed and can't spray a can lefty worth crap). So I wanted a new cheap way to keep the cutter cool and at the same time free up both hands for my milling operations. I found a very inexpensive 1 quart mist delivery system in a catalog I had lying around and decided to give it a try.......

The first thing I wanted to do is make a custom bracket to hold the spray nozzle so that it would be out of the way and be adjustable to direct the spray towards the cutter easily. A while ago I broke the little plastic bracket that came with the mill (the one that holds the chip shield in place). Like an idiot I lowered the mill head to check something and the shield hit the vise and shattered the plastic mounting bracket. It was no big deal since I never use the shield anyway, so until now I just went without it. After looking into all sorts of mounting options I decided to try to re-make the bracket that I broke and modify it to hold the spray nozzle. Here is a picture of the broken part. And this picture shows the tools I'm using to re-make the part out of aluminum.

I started out by cutting a small piece of 1" aluminum bar about two inches long. Here is a picture of the piece I cut. I just used a hacksaw to chop off a section so I decided to true up the sides in the mill before I did any layout. This picture shows the block being "squared"....I just ran the cutter over each side at a shallow depth to get everything nice and square. Next I coated the face of the block with some layout fluid so I could make the cutting marks on it. While I was waiting for the fluid to dry, I took a bunch of measurements from the broken piece so I could make the new one the same dimensions. I wanted to be able to use the existing screws and holes so I wouldn't need to modify the mill or drill into it. This picture shows the lines I scribed onto the block. These lines will act as guides for the milling.

I then used the lines to guide me as I cut the shoulders into the piece. Here is a picture of the process of leveling the piece. I used a test dial indicator to ensure that the face was level to the cutting tool. This picture shows the initial cutting to get the basic shape done. Here is another picture as it begins to take shape.

Next I used a transfer punch to mark where the holes needed to go. I also added an additional hole that will hold a piece of 1/4" aluminum rod. (more on that later). Here is a picture of the holes being drilled. Here is a picture after all the milling is done. One of the holes I just drilled needs to be tapped so I can screw the old knurled bolt into it. The bolt will hold the shield like it used to, or it can be used to adjust the depth of the new spray nozzle. This picture shows the hole being tapped.

Next I filed the edges off to remove the sharpness left by the milling process. And just to make it look like a professional job (I'm pretty anal about that)....I used a sheet of plexiglass as a surface and used some medium grit sandpaper to dress all the sides and make it look "finished" end up with a nice brushed aluminum look. Here is a close-up of the finished mounting bracket.

Ok now it's time to cut off about a 3 inch piece of 1/4" rod and then just hit it lightly with the grinder to bevel the ends. This rod will be where I mount the spray nozzle for the mist unit.

All done !! Here is what it looks like with the safety shield installed. And this is how the new nozzle will mount. I can now use the same bracket for either piece.

Here is a view that shows the whole set-up. The nozzle can be positioned up, down, tilted and rotated to pinpoint the spray where ever it is needed. It also moves with the head so it will always be pointing directly at the cutter, no matter how the table or vise are moved. I also directed the spray back toward the back of the machine (by mounting it on the front)....This will keep it from spraying directly into my face while I'm using the machine. I added a small air ball-valve just under the right edge of the milling table so I can reach my hand down (without looking) and switch the air to the mister on or off as needed. I think it turned out pretty nicely........

Adding Digital readouts to the Mill

I finally got tired of having to position my dial indicators before each cut, so I decided to pick up a set of DRO's (digital read outs) for all 3 Axis on the Griz. This will allow me to get .0005 precision with a digital display. It will also make the math easier for me.

I bought all 3 scales from Wholesale tool a few weeks ago when they were on sale. Here is a picture of the new DRO's. The part numbers and lengths are:

I had to do some creative thinking to come up with a way to mount everything without having to drill any holes into the mill.....the end result is something I am quite proud of. I milled the brackets out of 1/2" aluminum plate, and then drilled and tapped 10x24 hex head machine screws to fasten everything together. The design also allows for the scales to "self center" themselves before I tighten the bolts. This will ensure that nothing binds or bends. I also added an aluminum plate to cover the sensitive electronics and protect them from being damaged if I drop a wrench or some other stupid maneuver. Then to top it all off I modified the rear rubber chip guard, so that it mounts onto my newly created guard and protects everything from fluid and overspray (works like an umbrella).

Here are some pictures to help you visualize the mounting. Picture 1 shows the table and saddle scales. Picture 2 shows the head feed scale Picture 3 and Picture 4 show the way it's all protected from the top. All this....and I didn't have to drill one single hole in my mill. I can remove any of the units with just a couple screws (like for cleaning) and restore the machine back to it's former state at any time.

All I have to do now is add the remote 3-axis display unit, and I can even read and reset everything from a master view soon as it goes on sale I'll pick one up.

Until then I can still use the saddle and head units as-is (since I can read them by looking at the built in display on each one).....the table cross slide readout is another story. I had to mount it on the back side of the table and I covered it with the chip guard to protect it from spray. I can not read it unless I bend around and crane my neck to see it back there.......I intended to add the remote display all along so it's no big deal. I never intended to read the numbers directly off the DRO so it made sense to mount it the way I did....... I'll update this article as soon as I install the remote viewer so you get a better idea of how it all will work.

  I now have the new 3-Axis digital display mounted and boy is it cool. Here are a couple pictures of the fully digital mini-mill. Picture1 Picture2 ........ahhhhh yes no more gauges.

Mini-Mill Tramming, Trimming and adjusting 

I have received a few requests from visitors to the website, for information about how I set up and level everything before a cut on the mill. 

As you probably already know, I am a total neophyte when it comes to doing this sort of thing, and as such I've had to learn as I go. I'll show you how I do it, but please understand that have no idea what I'm doing (true with just about everything hahaha).... If you are a professional machinist, you are probably gonna laugh your ass off while reading this part. Having said that......I'll explain how I do different set-ups, hey what the works for me. If you are new to milling/machining then at least these steps will give you some place to start from, I had to use the old "trial and error" method, but I think I finally have a good routine down. You can't argue with results....and I've used these procedures for several months with excellent results....So here is what I do.......

Basic Stuff: 

I normally start out by checking for "basic" alignment and the then fine tune it from there. A good place to start (at least for me) is to always double check the major adjustments just to make sure nothing has moved or shifted since the last time I used it. In many cases, all you will need to do is set the major alignment and not worry about the fine tuning. This is true if your cuts do not require precision beyond about the .01 range. A couple examples are: when I made the mounting brackets for the DRO's I didn't do anything other than major aligning they didn't need to be that precise. The same applies to the lowering of an ejection port. As long as you are level you're good to go with that sort of thing. Here is a picture of the stuff I use for setting up and aligning things.

For basic (what I call major) alignment I use a special machinists level that I bought from Wholesale Tools. This level can detect a variance of only .005 in a 12 inch run. That's pretty darn good if you think about it. .005 is about the thickness of a piece of paper, so if you had a foot long straight edge and you put one end on a flat surface and the other end on a piece of paper lying on the flat surface, it would read as out of balance...pretty good huh? isn't that good enough for our uses?....well yes and no. The level can detect .005 but it ain't exactly the best I can do, and it takes a lot of time to get things perfectly level (I'll explain more about that later).

Where was I?....oh yeah now I remember.....So using the machinist level I start out by setting the "major" alignment of the mill itself. The table, the head and everything else. Here is a picture of the level testing the table to insure that it is ok. This particular level is available with or without a "cross check bubble". I spent the extra 7 bucks and got the one with the cross check. The bubble just tells you whether or not you are tilted from side to side, and I thought that would be nice to know. If you leveled your mill initially then this is mainly just to check that nothing has moved. I made some special leveling bolts when I first installed the mill, and have been reaping the rewards ever since. Here is a picture of the "RyanRods" I used to level the machine. This machine also has a tilting head column. It will tilt 45 degrees to either side, so it's a good idea to make sure it's perfectly straight up and down so you know it's parallel to the table. Here is a picture of the head being checked for basic alignment.

With only the above checks, you can actually do quite a bit of work. You can use the level to set your work piece square in the vise too. This is only true if the table and the head are perfectly level with the horizon. Remember, if the head and table are not level with the horizon, then the work piece can not be leveled using a bubble type level.

Getting Precise:

Well, all this is fine and good if you are doing basic stuff that only requires about .01 precision. But how do you fine tune these adjustments for the really precise stuff? Here's what I do.....

I still start out by using the machinists level to ensure that all the adjustments are at least "in the ball park" that way I don't have to do any major moving of parts to get to where I'm going. For the fine details I use a test dial indicator, and I mount it on the spindle of the mill head. I couldn't find a mounting bracket that was specifically made for the Griz, so I modified a Bridgeport type mount to work on the smaller spindle of the Griz. I had to mill off about .200 to get enough travel on the screw. The way the mount was when I received it, I could screw in the locking screw all the way till it bottomed out and it still didn't touch the I just removed some material from the outside edge and it now works fine. Here is a picture of what I did. The shiny part shows where I took the metal down. And this picture shows the modified mounting bracket when it's installed on the spindle. The mount has several hinged arms that allow me to move and adjust the ends anywhere I want. 

I start with a test to ensure that the head is exactly straight up and down....I think this is referred to as either "trimming" or "tramming" the head of the mill. I've heard both terms used and I'm not sure which is correct. I suspect the proper word is trim because that's what Mike357 calls it and he's a professional that's what I'll call it from now on (bored yet? hahaha). Anyways.....I set the trim first so that I know the head is perfectly straight in relation to the tables surface, that makes the rest of the set-ups index off of this fact. I have a scrap piece of aluminum plate about 1/2" thick that I have milled and sanded flat. Here is a picture of the plate. I mount the plate on the surface of the table (which we already know is level) using a couple clamps from my clamping set. Here is a picture of the trimming plate mounted on the table. I use this plate so that I can attach a small dial test indicator to the end of the spindle mount and then "spin" it around in a wide circle across the face of the table. If the dial moves during it's travels then I know something ain't quite right. Without the plate I would get the tip of the indicator bumping in and out of the that's why I have the plate. I turn the spindle by hand and check to see if the needle moves. Here is a picture of how a turn it. Once I get the head straight up and down, I normally don't need to do this test again unless I tilt the head for some reason (like for the front cocking serrations). Trimming is a not-so-often affair for me, I've only had to do it twice so far......but at least you get the idea how I do it. Now on to the good stuff......

Once the trim is set to where I am comfortable with it....I still do one last test to make sure everything acts as I expect it to. With the table leveled and the head trimmed...then logic would dictate that the table should be able to go from end-to-end and be perfectly straight right? Here's how I verify this.....With the dial indicator still mounted on the spindle, I rotate it until I am over one of the solid sections of the table surface (without the plate installed). Next I run the table from it's far left position to its far right position and look for any movement in the needle. If the needle moves at all (not likely) then you probably need to tighten the jig screws on the saddle, table, and head to take up any "slop". Ok, now we know that the machine is all set and ready to rock...what about the work piece?.......

Setting the work piece and vise:

For this example I'll use a parallel bar from my thin parallels kit.... I usually mount the vise in the center of the table and tighten down the outer nuts to make sure it's tight against the table. I leave the inner (swivel nuts) loose so I can move the vise slightly until it's parallel to the rest of the table.

Next I put one of the parallels into the vise and clamp it down. I use the smooth straight surface of the bar to act as a guide so I can be sure that the vise jaws are parallel to the axis of the table's movement. At this point I'm not worried about the top edge of the bar just the sides.... I then move the table a little at a time until the tip of my dial indicator just touches the outside edge of the parallel bar. Make sure that the only part of the tip that comes in contact with the bar is the little ball on the end. I move the table forward until the dial on the indicator is registering exactly half of it's measurement. (needle straight down). This ensures that as I move the table, the indicator has the ability to register changes in either direction. (don't laugh I've gone all the way across and didn't notice that the ball wasn't even touching hahaha.) Now move the table to the opposite end of the parallel bar and watch the needle move.(make sure it stays in contact the whole time, but don't move the saddle just the cross slide ) Make a note of how much it varied from it's original reading (half way) to it's new reading. Then slowly swivel the vise until the reading is exactly "HALF" of the total. Example: Initial reading was 20 reading at the far end is 40....move the vise til it reads 30......repeat this step until you get no movement at all from one end all the way to the other end. Then tighten down the inner nuts on your vise. I have found that as the nuts start to get tight I need to alternate back and forth to "torque" em down. The needle moves slightly each time I turn the inner nuts, so balance it by going from one nut to the other and watch the needle as you tighten.

Next I mount the work piece (slide, frame whatever) in the vise (which we already know is square and true) and use the same steps as above to get the work piece level and straight...... but this time you will also run the tip of the dial indicator along the top edge. That's about it....... we're all ready to start cutting. 

If I haven't moved the vise or the mill head since I used it last, then I just level the work piece each time. I don't go through all these steps for every cut. Just do a basic level check to see if anything shifted and you'll be fine.

(Special thanks to Mike357 for guiding me along as I tried to learn this stuff...thanks Mikey !!)

 I'll do another article about using dial indicators as measuring devises during the actual milling process if anyone asks for it.

Some observations about Jeweling patterns

After I completed the Jeweling modification on the 80% Commander project, I recieved a couple of interesting e-mails from visitors that wanted to share their "recipes" with me. This got me to thinking about just how cool the whole process really is. Here are a couple interesting things to consider.....

About 15 years ago my grandparents took a trip to Europe and visited a bunch of countries. When they got back they gave me a nice vest that had a bluish/green plaid pattern all over don't get me wrong, it was a nice looking vest but I couldn't figure out what on earth made them think of me when they saw it it turns out, they bought the vest in Scotland. They told a story about how all the old families (known as Clans) had their own plaid pattern, and they could tell what clan you belonged to by the pattern and color of your plaid.....pretty cool huh? The pattern they brought back for me was the pattern of our ancestors from way back in the family blood what does this have to do with Jeweling.....I'm getting there.....

I didn't notice at first, but each different formula for jewel swirl spacing is very unique.....never noticed it before really. I always just kinda looked at the piece and thought wow that looks cool. Same thing with plaid....I never paid any attention to the patterns before my grandparents brought me that vest....but now I can recognize my family pattern pretty easily.......Your jeweling pattern can be sort of like a signature. Little did I know it at the time....but it seems that I have just created the very first Roderus Custom Gunworks signature can do the same thing with your own personalized pattern.

If you start at the bottom right and work your way right to left each end up with a diagonal pattern. If you use my formula you end up with a curvy pattern. If you do not "stagger" the swirls as you go end up with a straight pattern....the list goes on and on.......Just think about it.......

Doing the jig

I've been amazed by how often I find myself in need of a good custom jig. Sometimes it's for holding something, other times for mounting something but in each case, it sure is handy to have the right jig. In the beginning I bought the jigs from Brownell's for as many operations as I could. Soon I found that Brownell's doesn't have a jig for everything I need, so I decided to try making my own....ever since then, I haven't looked back. Now I make a jig for just about everything my imagination can conceive. I've made jigs for turning, polishing, holding, mounting, staking and many other operations.....they sure do come in handy.

I've shown most of the jigs in the detailed write-ups of the operation that they are used for, but one jig in particular caught the eye of a few visitors, and I received a request to post a write-up on how I made here is how I made my Jeweling/Turning/Staking jig as seen in the jeweling details for the 80% Commander project..........

Here is a picture of what I started out with. Just a couple odd-sized pieces of 1/2" aluminum plate, a 3 1/2 inch section of 1" square aluminum bar and some assorted pieces from my clamping kit. The basic design was to create a jig that could be used for several different smithing operations on my 1911's.

I started off by milling the edges of the main floor plate so that all edges would be straight and true. Here are a couple pictures showing the milling process to get the edges all parallel. Picture 1 Picture 2. After milling the edges, I always hit the sharp edges lightly with a file, just to knock off the tips (so I don't cut myself). The milling process leaves a razor sharp end. It's important to always file that off. Next I sanded the flats on a piece of plexi-glass using some medium grit emory cloth. This ensures that the flats are smooth and level. This picture shows the floor plate after I cleaned it up. The floor plate measures 2" x 6 1/2".......and will be used as the main platform for the rest of the jig. The dimensions are not critical on any of this stuff as long as you test fit all the pieces and mark your holes correctly.

Next I drilled 2 holes in the 3 1/2" square bar (just eyeballed it). The bar will act as a vise block and will allow me to clamp the whole jig in my vise. I can also remove the vise block if it's not needed. Here is a picture of the holes being drilled. (again, don't worry about spacing, just drill 2 holes). Next I used a transfer punch to mark the holes I just drilled. This allows me to position the block where I want it under the floor plate (about in the center). I then drilled the holes in the floor plate using a #25 drill bit and then tapped them using a 10-24 tap. (use whatever size you want, I just used 10-24 because they are common and convenient). After tapping the holes this is what it looked like with the vise block mounted to the bottom of the floor plate. To complete the floor plate I drilled and tapped a couple of 3/8 -16 holes to allow me to screw in the studs from my clamping kit. These studs will hold the slide firmly in place when I use the jig for staking on front sights. As seen in this picture. (I'm getting ahead of myself sorry).

Next I cut out 2 pieces of 1/2 inch plate to act as the side plates. They are 2" x 2" sqaures. I milled the edges just like I did with the floor plate to get everything level and smooth. The only difference is that I stacked them and clamped both pieces in the vise at the same time. This allows me to make them the exact same size and just do the milling once. This picture shows the 2 side plates after I milled em. After lightly hitting the edges with a file. I test fit them to the floor plate and then marked them as "A" and "B" on the bottom so I would know which side. This allows me to just drill the holes in the floor plate (using a #10 bit) and not worry about being super precise.....I just drilled 2 holes in each end of the floor plate then used the transfer punches to mark the side plates. After marking them I drilled and tapped the side plates with 10-24 threads so I could attach them to the floor plate with hex head screws. The screws go in from the bottom, so the floor plate is drilled with a #10 (so they pass through) and the side plates are drilled with a #25 bit (so they can be threaded).

Next I drilled a hole to act as the "axle hole" in the side plates. To make sure that the hole was dead center on each side plate.....I just stacked em in the vise and then drilled both holes at once using a #10 bit. This picture shows you what I mean. Then I notched out a round section on the inside surface of each slide plate so that my barrel jig (shown in the barrel fitting section of the Commander project) would fit inside the notch and turn is a picture to illustrate.

After I got the notches cut, I sanded everything nice and smooth and then headed to the bead blaster to put I nice frosted finish on the parts. This step is of course optional.....I just wanted everything to look professional. Here is a picture of the assembled jig so far......and here are a few more angles so you can see where I'm going with all's basically a "rotisserie" hahahaha..... Picture 1 Picture 2. If you make your jig big enough to fit a full length barrel, then all you need is a small section of spring in order to make it work with shorter barrels. (I just cut off an inch of old recoil spring as a spacer for when I did the commander length barrel). This picture shows the way a shorter barrel is held in place with the spring. all I need to do is build the "spit" so I can rotate and lock the barrel between the side plates when I do the jeweling. I made a small threaded rod by turning down a piece of 1/4" aluminum rod to the proper diameter for 10-24 threads. This picture shows the rod being turned down. I did a section about 5 inches long so I'd have plenty of rod length (I can always cut it shorter). If you don't have a would be just as easy to use a piece of threaded rod from the hardware store....I just didn't feel like going to buy one, so I made my own. After I had the rod turned down to the right diameter, I put it in the chuck of my mill (just to hold it perfectly straight) and then clamped a 10-14 die in the vise and hand turned the chuck.....this put a nice set of threads on the rod. I threaded about 1" of each end of the rod. This picture shows the rod being threaded.

Since I'm such a perfectionist, I also added a nice knurled handle to the end of the rod to allow me to rotate the barrel. Here a few pictures of the process of making the knurled handle. I just turned it down....knurled it, chopped it off about 3/4" length and then drilled and tapped it so it would screw on the end of the rod we just made. Picture1 Picture2 Picture3

While I was at it I made my own home made thick "washer" for the left side of the jig. I checkered the face of the washer with my checkering file just to give it some grip on the side plate and keep everything snug during the jeweling. Here are a few pictures of my home made washer.  Picture1 Picture2 Picture3 Picture4

All is a picture of all the parts laid out. And this is what it looks like assembled. Picture1 Picture2 Picture3