Sunday, July 4, 2010


There are some features not often found in a full-sized drill press that'd be nice to have -- continuously-variable speed, for instance, and maybe a torque-limited drive. And don't you just hate the ones where the heavy table is just clamped to the column, ready to take out a toe if you slip while adjusting the height?

It turns out those concerns were already addressed -- in the 19th Century. Meet the W.B. & J. Barnes No. 0 Drill, a smallish, elegant camelback drill that uses an unusual ninety-degree friction drive:Yes, it's an eBay listing; the photos and first link should take you right to the page for as long as it lasts. I don't think the seller or auction site will mind and if they do -- editing's easy.True, it's set up for line-shaft drive; not too big a challenge for anyone with the skills to restore it and the desire to do so. The simplest item to fix would be the missing lever(s) from the quill control; it may also have a broken quill spring or counterweight, it appears the friction disc and wheel are going to need new leather and all the bearings are condition unknown; expect babbitt, not ball- or roller-bearings.

Despite all those things, the price is good; camelback drill presses generally command excellent prices on the used market and offer a number of advantages. High on the list is one of my pet peeves: most modern drill presses are set up way too fast; every time I have to use one at work, I find myself resetting it to the slowest set of pulleys (or, rarely, one step up). "Faster" is not "better;" it's how you overheat and/or break your drills (sigh, drill "bits," for the language-impaired). Camelbacks were set up for a slower range of speeds. The present example is a little different; instead of the usual three or four-step belt-drive pulley, the setting of the friction-drive wheel determines the speed -- there's a rod behind the main shaft that carries its bearing and a handscrew, barely visible at the upper right in the photo above, that secures it at the selected height along the radius of the friction disc.

Table-height adjustment is not visible in my screencaps. It's an Acme-thread leadscrew with a crank at about the same height as the quill knob, plus the usual clamping arrangement to secure the table at the selected height.

Looks like the press was set up for Morse (or similar....) taper arbors; there's a characteristic slot in the spindle where one would tap in a wedge to remove the chuck. You might not much want to -- it already has a modern-looking three-jaw chuck installed.

The whole thing looks as if it stayed in service well into the 20th Century. Not a lot of rust and no signs of overt abuse past the usual line of spots where the table's been drilled into.

Patent dates, per the seller, are all 1880s - 1890s.

There are some hints of various bits and bobs from the original drive -- a fitting on the column and a cast-in saddle at the base. If I was in Columbus, Ohio, I'd be tempted to have a look; if I knew how to rebabbitt bearings, I might do more than look.


  1. Awesome find! I bet you have a garage/area full of projects just waiting for you FREE time. I do!

  2. It sounds like you would rather be working with a mill than a drill press.

  3. ...I've used a drill press as a "poor woman's mill" in the past, in fact (working phenolic and aluminum, mind you), but what irks me is the nitwit who sets the press on the highest speed, chucks up a nice fat drill, then tries to ram it through the workpiece. The best outcome is a burned drill, all dull and soft.

  4. Or as one of my Shop teachers used to scream at those dummies....
    "It's a DRILL, not a PUNCH!".

  5. I had a barnes sensitive drill, which was very similar to the one pictured. it originally ran off a foot treadle, which I still had when I sold it, and the new owner intended to remove the electric motor and restore. You could feel the cut of each chip on even a 1/16" drill (hence, sensitive drill)Barnes is still in business, make hydraulic equipment now, and nobody alive remembers their machine tool days.

    babbitting bearings is a cakewalk. I use my bullet casting pot, the thermostat on it is adjustable to babbitting temps.

  6. I've used Barnes Sensitive Drills before. They were amazing pieces of technology. You really could feel each flute and cutting edge of the bit doing its work!

  7. Og's right about babbit bearings; I've worked with some that were marble sized, and everything up to some that took a six foot diameter shaft. They aren't bad once you've worked with them a bit.