Making tools for toolmaking, a leatherworking press.

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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We are always on the lookout for old tools that we can repair or repurpose.  We use our punch presses a lot, and I have been thinking that custom crafting tools like presses could be a good niche for us.

I found these 3 presses on a local auction last week.  Two of them are for embossing paper, but I thought that the one on the right had potential to become a leather punching/rivet setting machine if I could make a new shaft to replace the paper punch that was in there.

Here is the workhorse of our shop – a 1937 Delta 17″ drill press.  I found it laying in pieces at the salvage yard at the ‘Last Chance Mercantile’ in Monterey County and got it for $20.  It needed a chuck, motor, handles, and repair on the cast iron belt-guard, but I love the art deco ‘helmet’, and have been carting it around thru 3 moves.  There are a lot of great old tool resources online, especially (formerly  They have manuals for thousands of old tools, and some original parts are still available for these.

I measured up the existing shaft in the press and it was a hair under 7/16″, so I got a 7/16″ bolt at the Restore, cut it to length, chucked it up in the drill press, and used a mill bastard file to turn it down to the correct diameter.  I tried to punch and center-drill it with the drill press, but it is really hard to center punch a starting point that is dead on, and the first try was off center and crooked.  I want a metal lathe…



 Well, no metal lathe is in the foreseeable future, but Erika’s dad was a mechanical engineer, and we have some of his tools around.  The small drill chuck on the bottom was in his old toolbox, so I bolted it to a piece of angle iron that I can clamp into the drill press vice.  I  chucked up the 7/16″ bolt piece in the drill press, and put a sharp, broken bit in the bottomchuck.  By moving the spinning shaft across the broken bit, I was able to scribe a divot in the center of the shaft.  Then I chucked up my bit in the bottom, and spun the shaft in the drill press down onto it to drill it.  It worked!  Dead-center/straight hole.


I want to be able to use replaceable hole punch tubes in this press, so I tapped the shaft to the same thread that the punch tubes have (5/16″ fine thread).



 Here is the completed punch shaft with punch-tube in place – the hole on the side is for punched bits of leather to come out.



 Here is the finished shaft assembly.  There is a flat platform on the old press shaft that the handle of the press pushes down onto, and it sits on top of the spring that pushes the whole assembly back up after you pull it down.  I folded a thin piece of flat stock over to get the thickness that I was after, and then brazed the tab onto the shaft.

Here is the finished product.  The bottom anvil is another piece of 7/16″ bolt.  The press is pretty small – our main press (behind it) has a lot more leverage, but this one punches 2 layers of thick leather belt easily, and it will work great for punching and setting rivets.

Because the punch shaft is threaded, you can replace the punch tube with a normal bolt, and use it to set rivets.  
Keep your eyes open for these old presses, and let us know if you see them around. 


 Future projects – got a lot in the same auction simply titled ‘Heavy Stuff’ = including 2 3′ long wrenches, and these bad-ass old cast iron lockplate covers.  Total lot weight was #130.  Look for these in projects to come.



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