Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Keystone Railroad tool grinder

A Railroad tool...grinder you ask? Well yes, they make a handy sized hand crank grinder for using 6 inch stones. But lets back up a bit...

Once in a while I scour my local KIJIJI for tools, cause you never know what can comes up sometimes! Missed on a few good deal on some rarely seen tools, but for the most part, I have been happy with what I found.

This one came up in my regular hand tools search in Nova Scotia:

The infamous Railroad tool grinder.
An Elephant in a China shop??

Decent looking, as far as I could tell from the pics, but would have to be seen in person, since we are paying cash, so if nothing serious, it's a good price. Well worth asking price.

Here is another, broken handle, worse paint loses etc, for US $100
I'e seen them all day long on Ebay around US $70-90 range, and of course sometimes ridiculous asking prices...

Here are the photos from the original poster's ad, the one I got

As they are mostly found, it is missing the tool holder, only a part of it (the receiver) is present. They had various one, including one for the adze. An Adze? Yes, that would had been a commonly used tool on railroads timbers (ties) for notching them: For grades or around fasteners

See the adze holding in the attachment for grinding?
In case not obvious pic from Vintagemachinery.Org

Here are some close ups of the strange tool holder it used. It is missing some parts (?)

Were around early to mid 20th century. They were reputed to make some of the best hand crank grinders, rivaling those by PYKE-Peerless, no less.

What are the attributes to a good grinder?
Little to no slop in the driven spindle.
It is next to impossible to grind straight on a wobbling wheel...
Some grinder's design allow some adjustments.
Lots of the wobble on older wheels are caused by an out of true or unbalanced wheel. so changed it before trying to Fix the wobble.
You must be able to remove the wheel. I have seen some which were solidly rusted frozen and no amount of my usual tricks worked.

Attain a good speed and keep its momentum, with minimal effort.
This is were gear ratio, friction, and driving mechanism comes into play
Worn gears will give you troubles, jerkiness etc. Worse if missing teeth altogether.
The type of lubricant, would ease or make more stiff the gearing mechanism.
Originally, they were designed for using lite machine oils, and were not sealed. Hence they throw oil out and make themselves quite messy thru the years.  Hint, they always had oil port. Using a grease could make them harder to operate depending on viscosity, but they then wont throw out oil all over...
Can you overheat a tool edge on a hand grinder?  Hell yes!. Grinders are coarse tools, leave the end of the edge a bit thicker, to be finished on your stones. Just like you are supposed to do on electric grinders. And quench as needed.
Notice how the handle spins for while after cranking? If you stop it abruptly, that is hard on the gears... Gears have been stripped easily by doing so repeatedly.

A solid enough stand or jig to offer the tool to the wheel at the correct fixed angle
Many grinders have flimsy sheet metal tool rest, others are often missing altogether, especially with antiques. Numerous after market jig exist and numerous DIY articles / plans published on how to.

Appropriate wheel used for a given application.
This can seems complicated, but it is not:
With electric grinders you basically get two speeds: 3450 RPMs or the slower speed ones at 1725 RPMs (@ 60 hertz) With hand crank or foot power, the resulting speeds are all over. Why does it matter? Because the resulting surface speed of the grinding wheel in relation to the tool, will determine the optimal friability of the appropriate stone. Too fast rated RPMs stone, used slowly will result in the wheel glazing, and not wearing out fresh particles to do its job, it will also quickly overheat, thus promoting more glazing.

Reverse scenario, low speed rating stones, would results in the stone literally exploding at turn on used on a high speed grinder. Scary.
Ever tried a PACE rotary brush attachment (used a flex mechanical shaft) on a Dremel electric tool :-)

But seriously, we want the stone to be friable, thus wearing out, to continuously expose fresh sharp particles to do its job properly.

Therefore what about the idea of using your 6 inch electric grinder stones on a hand grinder? They may not spin fast enough to wear correctly. In which cases you may have to dress the stone more often. Enough people have been using Norton 3X white stones on them, so safe to say they work. Just remember to dress the stone often.

But sweat not (Who me, speaking or writing backward? :-), you can still find the proper stones made for us Galoot's powered grinding machines that we are.

Here is the code you have to know in order to make sense of it and specified the correct ones.
A shorter look at the code on Wikepedia

Often the stones that comes with them are pretty well used up and small(er). 
The maximum diameter can be figured out  by measuring the distance between the spindle and the two bottom legs which secured it to the work surface. 

I want to be able to re-used my 6 in Norton stone currently mounted in one of my Delta grinders.
It has been chipped, and I would not trust it at high speeds, but would feel safer on a hand crank grinder

I know, you must be asking yourselves, how can this happened
in such a well manicured shop ?? :-)

The small guy (Hoppe) I was using besides my new one.
Yes, it is bigger, but which sizes stones do they accepts?
The answer may surprise you.

Measuring from center of spindle to supporting legs.

The large Keystone measure almost 4 inch.
It would almost take an 8 inch wheel

The smaller Hoppe, is just about maxed out at 2-1/2 inch
5 inch wheels seems to be the maximum it would take

Shown mounted to a work surface, you can see the clearance I am referring to.

The Keystone

The smaller Hoppe

The Keystone has a much thicker work surface capacity.
Shown installed on a 2X4 top, roughly 1-1/2 in thick

The smaller Hoppe had to be mounted on a thinner board, nominal 3/4 in this pic

The small Hoppe has a pinkish wheel, which has acquired a rounded profile on its face.
I used it a lot for metal shaping

This so call Railroad grinder is a good size for our needs, it will accept readily a 6 in wheel.
I heard it says that all hand grinders out there accept 6 in wheels, I beg to differ, based on my own finds...

All in all, I am happy with my new find. They both have some wobble in the stones, which I may be able to address later. I don't need to start another tool rehab project right now....

Besides, that table top I cleared earlier of my pile of accumulating tools... Well, it has started to accumulate its own pile of gardening stuff.
Like I said, Jean is getting anxious to start, so, she will need the room :-)

On this space future seedlings coming up

Bob, the toolman trading his shop apron for a gardener apron


  1. Bob,

    I almost always learn something from your posts, not that I want a hand grinder but I don't really want to use my powered one either.

    Thankfully we live in the desert, so not too many seedlings on my work benches :-).

    ken where it is raining and cold, 15C as I type burrrr.

  2. Great post, Bob. Can't wait to see what you do about the slight wobble. My hand-crank grinder has a wobble that I've tried to fix by shimming, but that has proven inconsistent. Can't wait to see what you would do.