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Shop Tip: A Novel, Inexpensive, and Convenient Center Finder

We’ve all been there. In the middle of a project that required locating and drilling multiple precisely placed holes. We’ve already carefully marked the part with dykem and scribed lines. We’ve got our center drill chucked up in the mill and we’ve just finished locating and drilling our first of several holes. Now what?

Well, if you have a center finder or a wiggler you’re probably inclined to remove the center drill from the collet and replace it with your center finder of choice, which may or may not fit the collet you happen to be using. In short, you have a tedious bit of tool (and possibly collet) swapping in store for you … hole after hole … and you know it.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? Or what if you don’t own a proper center finder or wiggler? Well, “Swarfie” from Northern Alberta has a solution:

“With the spindle stationary, stick a piece of plasticine (a putty-like type of modeling clay) to the tip of your center drill and embed the blunt end of a straight pen into the plasticene. Start your machine on medium speed. With the edge of your 6″ steel rule (which every machinist should have on his person, or right handy)  maneuver the pin until the point spins with no wobble. Use your X and Y axis hand wheels to manouver the point of your sticky pin over  the middle of you scribe marks, and you have quickly located your centre point.”

Jerry took this tip one step further and made a quick video illustrating the process.

The solution is elegant, inexpensive, and quicker than using a more traditional method. Thanks for sharing this tip Swarfie, and thanks to Jerry for making an excellent video of the process! If you’re interested in the original forum post that Swarfie started on this topic, it can be found here.

I’d be interested in getting feedback from the readers on a few things:

  1. What other brands/types of clay have you used with success? I imagine any non-air hardening clay would be suitable. Just something that you could store in a clean corner of your tool box that wouldn’t get hard (and thus worthless) over time.
  2. There are lots of different types of center finders and wigglers out there. Sold individually or in sets.
    • If you were a beginner and could only purchase one set, would you purchase a center finder set, or a wiggler set, and why?
      • Or do you even need a set at all? Would a single edge finder and a center finder be adequate?
    • Personal preference aside, are there major advantages of one style over another?
    • And what about name brands vs generic? A single Starrett center finder can cost as much as $35, more than a complete set from Grizzly. With the proper care, are the budget brands equally accurate?

Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge!

 

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About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.