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The Epic Saga of the Slant-Bed

T. Jost

Cast Iron
Jan 28, 2007
Hillsboro, Kansas USA
(A cautionary tale of a “cheap” CNC)

A long time ago I promised to do an update on my purchase of a Hardinge Super-slant. Actually I promised to write "The Saga of the Slant Bed." This is that story. It has morphed from a saga to an epic saga.

Fair warning: This story is long. It is over 8,000 words. If you find my style or content boring just stop. It probably won't get better. Just sayin’.

Back in the first week of May of 2012, I pounced on an offer in the “Machinery For Sale/Wanted” section of PM. I'd been looking for a reasonably priced turning center for about a year. I had a customer who had a product for me to make if I could get tooled up to do it. (Actually there were 3 customers expressing consistent insistent interest.) It required a live-tooled lathe. My first used CNC machine tool purchase (a Hurco) was (and still is) a brilliant success. So I felt confident that if I did my due diligence little could go wrong. I saw that ad for a live tooled 4 axis lathe with a bar feed for $6000. It looked and was described as very low hours. I instantaneously decided to buy it. I was very excited and wanted to lock it down before someone else had the chance to snap it up, I had missed some good buys before; but the seller wouldn't even take a deposit until I had come out to see it in operation. I took that as a good sign but it posed some complications.

Bob, the previous owner, did not know how to program it. In fact he didn't know much about it other than how to power it up. He bought it to make a product he had patented. He had friends who could program it. He got a sweetheart deal on it. It would all work out.

It never got much use. The product never took off. His friends with the programming skill moved away. With the bar feed attached it took up a huge amount of real estate in his robustly equipped manual machine shop. After ten years mostly idle, it was time to clear out some space and the Super-Slant and its’ 12 foot Har-matic bar feed were just the things to remove.

The complications: In addition to getting me from Hillsboro Kansas to Pasadena Maryland, Bob had to get Jim from Indiana to set it up and have it running to demonstrate its functionality. He did not trust me (with no prior G-code knowledge) to fire it up lest I crash it and then decide not to buy it. He wouldn’t turn loose of the Programming Manual prior to me buying the machine because without it the machine was useless. He wasn’t willing to sell it to me sight unseen so… I had several schedule conflicts so did they… Long story short it was mid July before all of our schedules and the stars aligned to allow inspection of the machine.

The weekend was arranged. Plane tickets, hotel room and rental car was booked. I was totally stoked. I was to fly out of Wichita Kansas (an hour’s drive from my shop in Hillsboro) at 5:00 PM on a Friday. Arrive for a two hour layover in Atlanta at 6:30 and then fly on to Baltimore and be in the hotel by 11:00. I was to pick up my car at 8:00 AM and be to Bob’s before 9:00 to have the whole morning and afternoon to learn the capacities of the machine and be able to make a fully informed decision about purchasing it or not. That isn’t how it turned out.

Sitting in the airport in Wichita I heard an announcement that my flight was delayed by 30 minutes due to some damn thing or another. Maybe it was a refueling issue. I wasn’t worried. In fact a 30 minute delay was enough to allow me to find a bar and have a beer and spend a little quality time observing the class of people who regularly fly. All was well. But then it was delayed again. Oh well, I had a two hour layover to burn no big deal. That is when the thunderstorm over the Atlanta airport began to bloom.

I looked at the radar. It wasn’t a monster but it was a full grown T-boomer. We in the Midwest see them quite regularly (well not so much that year which was an epic drought year) and they last maybe an hour. Most of them last only 20 minutes or so. By regulation we were not allowed to take off until the storm had cleared the airport that we would eventually land at. The storm was totally stationary. By the time the storm cleared in Atlanta it was 8:30. I didn’t really think about it and just got on the plane and headed for Atlanta. My connecting flight to Baltimore was taking off in Atlanta just as I was taking off in Wichita. No one thought to mention this to me. I didn’t think to ask.

There were some more delays in the air. By the Time I landed in Atlanta it was 11:00. It took me until 11:30 to positively confirm that there were no possible flights to Baltimore that night. It was then that I was informed that the Airline bears no responsibility for flights missed due to weather. I was now on standby status and I might-could-maybe get a flight as early as 7:30 if someone didn’t show up or if someone canceled during the night. Processing time to get back into the airport through the rental car system and security was estimated at 3 hours. It was almost 1:00 before I had found the various people necessary to learn these vital statistics. The most economical hotel room/cab fare combination was on the plus side of $180.

$200 for 2+/- hours sleep? With the potential of missing the first available flight? Hell no. I’m resilient and resourceful. I (once upon a time) went days without sleep and kicked butt and took names. I could find a way to get some sleep in an airport. How tough could it be?

Oh my God. The Atlanta airport is engineered to prevent any possibility of meaningful sleep. Thin carpet is attached directly to concrete without any pad. There are No benches that it is possible to stretch out on. The custodial staff seems to be encouraged to nudge you with the vacuum right as you doze off on the floor or whack energetically into the base of the table you are trying to sleep on. Then there was the lady on a Segway zooming up to me, right as I was dozing off, to shake my shoulder to ask if I needed another blanket. I kid you not.

But the worst aspect of that airport is something you hardly even notice when there are lots of people walking around talking. Every 15 minutes the intercom system squawks into life to announce, “ATTENTION! THIS IS A SECURITY ANNOUNCEMENT, please do not leave your bags unattended. Do not agree to take possession of the bags of people you do not know. Unattended bags will be confiscated by security and DESTRUCTIVELY tested. Blah blah blah blaaa… THIS HAS BEEN A SECURITY ANNOUNCEMENT.” It was just loud enough and urgent sounding to jar me into an abrupt adrenaline fueled sitting state. It took about 10 minutes for it to wear off. 4 minutes more to begin to doze off and then WHAM: “Attention! THIS IS A SECURITY ANNOUNCEMENT, please do not leave your bags unattended…”

I didn’t get a flight out or any sleep until 10:30 AM.

When I arrived in Baltimore I was about as cognitively sharp as the zombie of a dunce. Once upon a time I could go long periods without sleep… Well, dang it, that was over 20 years ago and my physiology seems to have changed a bit since my twenties. I was really nervous getting onto the highway in Baltimore traffic and heading out into small winding roads that define the residential neighborhoods of that area. (I’m a Kansas boy. Roads out here are laid out in a simple mile by mile grid. Curves and trees are the exception.) Groggy as I was I found the place.

It wasn’t what I expected. Not the place nor the machine. It was a normal looking rural-turned-suburban farmhouse with about thirty yards back to a barn that seemed to back up to swampland. Bob’s machine shop was, in his words, “an old goat barn.” It looked like an old dairy to me. Half a dozen different roof-lines married into one big rambling mass. Beware of dog signs everywhere. A couple “beware of the armed owner” signs as well. My favorite one was, “If you can read this you are in range.” That sign was quite an understatement. Bob had enough automatic firepower in the dozen or so safes in his office to arm a substantial militia.

My eyes hurt and weren’t focusing right. I felt stupid and couldn’t remember the questions I wanted to ask. Bob seemed a nice guy and the dog was friendly (at least I think I remember a dog.) Jimmy was really friendly too. We wound our way through several rooms toward a back room and a lot of noise. Between the level changes, all the machine tools and the small doorways I was wondering how anything was going to get out of there without roof removal and a helicopter. We went to the back of an office type space and through a door. I nearly fell down the two very steep steps right behind the door, and there, diagonally shoehorned into a room that seemed that seemed way too small for it was the Hardinge with a 15 foot long bar feed and in back of that a hulking old CNC bed mill.

It sounded awful. In addition to all of the usual CNC machine tool noises and the sound of the hydraulic pump for the bar feed there was this horrible clattery grinding noise. I watched through the cracked and coolant stained window as the turrets went through their paces. The machine was making little hollow threaded parts from solid bar stock. I was really groggy. I was cranky. I suddenly realized that I was really, really hungry and the machine wasn’t giving me the happy adrenaline I had been hoping for. I think the look on my face gave away more than I would have liked because Bob explained that the nasty growling noise was a bad fan motor he had been meaning to get around to replacing but it kept blowing so he just got used to the noise. We walked around the machine. It kept chunking out little parts. I started to feel better. I still couldn’t remember the questions I was supposed to be asking. I said, “Could we go get some Lunch?”

Jimmy said, “Why don’t we go through the homing sequence and a few other important things, then we can take a break for lunch. After we shut it down I don’t really want to get it all fired up again.”

“Uh, OK. Show me… uh… what were you going to show me?” I wasn’t quite that dingy but it was close. I have come to the conclusion that if someone wanted to torture me sleep deprivation would be a good way to go. We went through the homing sequence (which is quirky) and I think I asked a few questions about tolerance and total hours. We shut down the machine so we could talk without shouting. The echo in that old dairy barn was truly amazing. I asked if it was wired three-phase 220 and was told it was. In fact I was told that if I called Hardinge and told them that it was the Super-Slant wired 220 they’d know it since all the others were 440, the main service guy had told him that. He would remember.

The power case was really clean. No evidence of smoke. No debris. No loose parts. No case of spare fuses. The Power-Mate (which I didn’t understand but that’s later in the story) had pocket in the door with the original Fanuc inspection/specification sheet in Japanese and some Siemens documentation in German. The control case had similar Japanese certificates and looked as though it should smell like new paint. I was beginning to feel more confident. My sagging brain kept nagging that food would wake it up. It lied.

I won’t bore you with a recounting of lunch. I learned a lot about Bob, his history, his various business ventures and the history of the machine. It seems I was to be the 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] owner and Bob really hadn’t used the thing much at all. Perhaps a few months total. I was feeling better and the machine was mentally sounding better. And to be honest Bob and his story are pretty impressive. Good crab bisque and crab-cakes. I was hoping the iced tea would give me a jolt but no such luck.

I had done some research on the machine prior to flying out there. I tried to get some information and parts/service availability information out of Hardinge Bros. I was beyond optimistic. I knew they would be knowledgeable and helpful. A few years back (ok, 10 years +) I had called them about my little turret lathe (vintage 1950 something) and they were supremely helpful and had parts on the shelf. This thing was from the late 80’s surely they would still support it. Nope. All Hardinge non warrantee CNC service and parts information is the dominion of a company named Hartwig. Nobody at either place seemed interested in talking to me. I chalked it up to them not being interested in spending time with a tire kicker who didn’t even own the machine yet.

I did learn that the control parts were available through Fanuc and possibly e-bay but they would be high priced. Mechanical parts: nonexistent. Live tooling, no one would say. I figured that if the machine was sound and operational I’d at least get a couple years out of it. Hartwig’s opinion is that anything older than 10 years was a huge risk and a 20+ year old machine was simply crazy. They had some three to five year old machines with live tooling on hand starting in the 70K range… He’d be happy to set up an appointment to see them right away… no they weren’t under power… no, that price wasn’t tooled… they’d be happy to source a bar feed… they could sell me some warrantee…

Well, Bob’s machine was just 10% of their starting price and it came with a bar feed I knew was compatible. 6K was real cheap for a machine that didn’t look like it had been rolled down flight of stairs. I’d been looking for a while. This one had undamaged way covers, minor cosmetic paint issues on the outside, no big dings in the turrets, I had come from central Kansas to some nondescript suburb south of Baltimore with a cashier’s check for 6K. The machine worked and with a few biscuit fans would sound fine. I was looking at things one eye at a time because it was more than I could do to keep both open at the same time. I needed to lay down in the worst way but I had a 30 minute drive to get to the hotel outside the airport. It was Time to deal.

T. Jost

Cast Iron
Jan 28, 2007
Hillsboro, Kansas USA
In earlier email’s and phone calls with Bob he had said that the live tooling and chuck etc. were worth another 6K. He had to search hard and pay through the nose to get them and he’d rather try to ebay them than to give them away. We came back from lunch and looked at some of his other toys. I knew he wasn’t going to negotiate on the price of the lathe so I said, “OK, we have a deal on this lathe. Here’s the check. Have you had some time to think about what you want for the live tools and chuck?” We shook hands on 4K that I was to send when I got home. I took one copy of the Programming Manual (he had two copies of each manual) and made it to the Hotel by in time for a solid nap, supper at a chain bar and grill across the street and then back to bed for a 4:00 AM wake-up call to get the rental car returned in time for a 6:30 AM flight.

At this point I was pretty sure that things would come together pretty quickly. Bob said he needed a couple weeks (it took over a month) to shift the machinery out a back door (once the big mill was out of the way everything would move fairly easily out the back of the building) and into the 40 x 60 (with the RV, RV lift, boat and Corvette) where a truck could back alongside (once he moved the dozer) and be in position for an easy lift. All I had to do was find a rigger. I had an LTL outfit lined up for the hauling and a rigger out of Wichita to unload it before I even when to see the machine. How hard could it be? The answer is “Really Damn Hard.”

I will give you the super condensed recounting of finding a rigger. Several rigging outfits I contacted just said no. ”Residential neighborhood, no dock, gravel drive in a low-lying area… NO.” I had one outfit quote me $16,500 to put bring out a fork truck and load it. Not a truck to transport it to a dock, just a fork and the truck it came on. They said the extra expense was because they would have to close the street. Whatever. Eventually I found an outfit. Actually Bob did. He had used them to bring the machine in 10 years ago. The owner had retired and the son was running the show. Mostly a LTL outfit but they had some rigging equipment. I was getting desperate. It was already September. They quoted me 8.5K to rig and truck the thing to my door. Sold. Get it done. But wait, what do you mean you can’t get to it for another 2 and a half weeks? Sigh. Whatever.

My $6,000 lathe was now up to Eighteen Five with no turning tools and it wasn’t wired. Ah, more expenses to come. I was supposed to ask lots of questions when I went out to see the beast in MD. I thought I asked a question about electrical requirements. Either I asked and received an errant answer or I didn’t ask it and dreamed up an incorrect answer on my own. While I was waiting on shipment I called an industrial electrical outfit that has done good work for me in the past. They had a narrow opening between big jobs and they could come in right now. I got out a chalk marker and drew an outline on the floor and asked them to pull a 50 amp line to the spot marked X.

The machine needs 100 amps. If I’d have grabbed the service manual along with the programming manual I’d have known that. If I’d called to double check before telling the electrician what to do I could have saved a thousand dollars, but I was confident that I had asked and been given the answer of 50 amps. Once the machine was here I had to wait another 2 weeks for the electrician to have another opening to come back and bring another conduit over and pull 100 amp service. The 50 amp line? Oh, well I always wanted a couple welder outlets at the other end of that wall anyway. Total electrical bill a little north of 2K. 6K had morphed into 20K and I wasn’t done spending.

While the lathe was waiting on juice I figured I should get some tooling so that once it was up I could get it productive quickly. I had 3 customers chomping at the bit for me to do some turning for them. These were jobs that I couldn’t hit both tolerance and price point on my manual machines. Actually I probably could have but I simply did not have time nor did I see the point. I had a robust CNC lathe with live tooling, two turrets, programmable tail stock, bar feed and part catcher why would I even consider cranking handles and pulling levers when I could write a program and listen to it work?

While I was waiting on the second conduit, a salesman from a local industrial supply house I use for coolant and abrasives came in with his Walter rep wondering if I’d ever considered Walter turning tools. Special introductory deal! We’ll save you Hundreds! I’m sure I did save quite a bit over buying the parts separately. I got a couple smallish boring bars, an OD threading tool, a parting tool, right and left roughing tools, right and left profiling tools, a specific grooving tool (for a job I eventually had to run off), and a box of inserts for each. Another $1200.

I’m sure that some of you, with modern machine tools and multiple employees look at the dollar figures I’ve written and yawn. Others probably wonder how I could hemorrhage money like that without blacking out. In reality, I’m somewhere in the middle of those two ends of the spectrum. In fact, I alternated between them with some regularity. When the machine was looking promising it was chump change. For its capabilities and production potential, 22K is still way below what I had seen machines on Ebay go for. Many priced in the 50K range look like they had been used as the puck in a weekly game of forklift hockey. Other weeks, when it seemed that it would never get running, the money, and space the machine was occupying pained me like an ulcer. As the months stretched out the pain side of the equation grew dominant.

Being a one man shop at the time (I have added a full and part time guy this year) I can’t say that the money wasn’t significant. But the bank was happy to loan me more money for the unanticipated costs. My line of credit gets used and paid off regularly. Previous equipment loans have all been paid on time or early. Payments weren’t enough to give me cash flow issues. It’s been really busy for the last three years: Consecutive record sales. So, it was mostly in the middle of the night, or when I had to physically climb over the bar feed to get to something, or when I spent another day I could have been making money tracing wires and feeling over my head; then the money and wasted space bothered me. I was often too busy to notice the pain. Back to the story.

After the electrician finished I asked him to check a few things before we pulled the big lever. I had shown him the electrical prints (the documentation that came with the machine is really amazing) and Bob’s notes from installing it at his place. I asked him, “Are you sure this thing is wired for 230v? Are you sure it is phased right? Did you see anything in any of the cabinets that looked like it came loose in transport? Are you confident that the magic blue smoke is going to stay in the machine when I pull this lever?”

“Well, you have 245v service here but a lot of people call it 230.” He was 100% confident on all but the last one. He grinned and said, “Never can tell with old machines. That’s why I won’t pull the disconnect. You have to do it.”

I pulled the lever. Lights and clattery fans came on. I went around to the front and pressed the green button to turn on the control. There was a “whuuump” sound, like an old tube amp coming. Lots of lights. The green CRT warmed up and resolved. The control was there. I turned the E-stop mushroom and pressed the E-stop reset. Nothing. Well, there was the very slight sound of a relay trying to move in what I have come to know as the hydraulic control compartment, but other than that nothing. Disappointing yes, but it was not totally disheartening. The control said low hydraulic pressure so I started tracking down any thing that could lead to low pressure or hydraulic faults. Fluid level was good. Fuses were checked. Filters were clear. Voltages were checked. Phase was inverted multiple times. Then I looked through the manual for other things that could cause things not to fire up. Then I inquired of the gurus here on PM.

The consensus was that my problem was an E-Stop string issue, most likely something simple. Could be a bar feed issue. Many people expressed the opinion that the something likely shifted in transit and was sitting on a limit switch and thus making the machine refuse to power up. I spent weeks of time (that I had to carve out of my evenings and weekends) tracing wires, jumpering out switches and relays, going through the diagnostic codes and cross-referencing which limit switch they should be reporting on what, cussing, stomping, and slowly becoming more confident that the problem was not something simple.

November 2012, I initiated another desperate round of questioning on PM. This time I was asking for someone who would/could work on my unresponsive machine. There were two responses. Actually there were multiple responses that recommended two people, Todd Reige of Wisconsin and Chris St. Germain of Kansas City. I emailed both and Todd responded almost immediately. Chris didn’t respond at all. Todd and I struck up a dialog and when I said that I had no problem paying him his full rate for phone diagnostic time he said he’d take some time out of his schedule on Saturdays and evenings and we’d solve this thing. “After all, you saw it run. It has to be something simple.”

Todd has had long experience with Hardinge machine-tools, however his experience started with the Conquest line of machines which I think was the next generation after the Super-Slants. They didn’t have the convoluted convergence of New York engineering, Japanese controls and German drives. But heck, it was still Hardinge, he’d figure it out.

Ah, hindsight; it is so flipping clear. Todd emailed me some reduced size prints of the electrical schematics which I got printed. The ones that came with the machine were full table sized and his were like 14 x 21 and much easier to handle. Plus I could keep the original drawings free of old coolant and shop dirt. Once I had manageable drawings we set up an evening and worked through the basics. He asked about whether the phase had been checked. Check. He asked if the voltage was set correctly at the multi-former. I said that I thought so but really didn’t know, so he told me to check that line 1 was connected at the terminal marked 5 etc. I matched the numbers he was saying to the wires at the fuse blocks and thought all was well. We moved on to going through the e-stop string again.
It’s my fault. I have spent my life studiously avoiding any serious contact with electronics more elaborate than three-phase motors. He was saying words and talking about lines on the drawing and I was thinking we were speaking the same language. We were, but I was looking at the wrong end of the schematic. He was talking wire numbers and tap numbers at the multi-former and I was looking at wires and terminal-block numbers at the fuse block end: Opposite sides of the power case.

The machine was not tapped for 245v. It was tapped for 208v. We spent about 12 total hours on 4 or 5 separate occasions tracing through the machine eliminating possible culprits. Eventually Todd ran out of ideas. “Alright,” he said, “Let’s start at the beginning. The main leads should come from terminal block x, y and z and connect to multi-former taps 15,16 and 17. From there the…”

“Wait a minute” I shrieked. “They aren’t! They are tapped into blocks 5, 6 and 7!” I could hear Mr. Riege groan on the other end of the phone line. “That was the first thing I asked you to check!” I changed the taps and the machine came out of E-stop. It was November and I could finally jog the axes! The Spindle turned in jog mode! I was able to home the turrets. I was sure that productivity was just around the corner.

I was ridiculously busy with other work so the lathe, no matter how exciting, was a secondary priority. I was really excited about knowing that I had not purchased a 13 thousand pound (now two dollar per pound) paperweight but there were non-lathe jobs that had to get done and I still had to learn to it. Prior to getting it running, I kept falling asleep trying to read the programming manual. Without knowing that the machine was going to run it was hard to focus on absorbing G-code. I was sure it would make more sense once I could stand there and make the machine do things. I’m relatively bright, how hard could it be? It would be right at a year before I would find an answer to that question.

The Saturday following the wiring realization I locked up the shop at noon and went to the lathe. I fired it up. All was well. I homed the axes. I homed the live turret which lifts and spins dizzily around a couple times then slows and settles at tool post 1. I jogged it around a bit for the heck of it. I jogged the tail stock (which seemed kind of sluggish), spindle and turrets. I started dreaming big dreams. Then I started doing some cleaning of the turrets so I could load them with my new tools and I could try some MDI moves and then on to setting the tool offsets.

I turned my back on the machine to get a wrench from the rolling tool cabinet right behind me. When I turned back it looked like the tailstock had moved. I looked around for any reason it might have moved. I jogged it back to home position (the tailstock home light was not working so I wasn’t absolutely sure I had moved it all the way home before), scratched my head and resumed the delightful job of mounting my new parting tool. I turned around to get an insert for it and when I turned around the damn tailstock was making a dash for the chuck. I reached for the tailstock right button just as the tailstock hit the over-travel limit switch. The tailstock right button didn’t work. I was scratching my head again when the machine went into E-stop. The E-stop reset button did nothing. No matter what I did it would not come out of E-stop. I was back to square one. No, I was back to square Negative Twenty Two Thousand.

T. Jost

Cast Iron
Jan 28, 2007
Hillsboro, Kansas USA
I came up with lots of theories. Theories about air trapped in the tailstock hydraulic cylinder and how that air might not be pressurized enough to move it until the way lube made it to the ways. I theorized about sticky buttons on the control panel. I dreamed up and tested many theories. I learned many things. I learned where all of the limit switches that relate to the tailstock are. I learned how they work. None of them had any effect. I learned, eventually, that the tailstock motion was probably coincidental with the E-stop problem not the cause. Perhaps you can imagine how bummed out I was.

It was about then that the Ghost of Sleep Deprivation Past came to haunt me again. I began to vaguely remember something being said about the tailstock that fuzzy day back in July. I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t something I dreamed up afterword but it seemed that I recall asking about the knobs on the left end of the machine and someone saying something about keeping the tailstock pressure turned all the way down or it would creep. I think I remember that but I just can’t be sure.

I was back to spending occasional nights and my Saturdays growling, cussing, stomping and checking the E-stop string and anything else I could think to test. I made up an entire set of jumper wires and simultaneously bypassed all the items in the E-stop string. Everything. I eliminated all of the safety features that are there to protect life, limb and control from all the horrors the MTB could dream up and pack into the logic ladder. Nothing.

Then I started tracing and retracing the 24v current that latches the relays to disable E-stop and energize the relays that would allow little things like the hydraulics to come on. I kept coming to a place in the string where the wiring took a dive from the power cabinet into the control cabinet. In the control cabinet I was able to locate the same numbers that were on the E-stop string diagram. They were two little bitty numbers in a long set of numbers where the main control board slotted into its card mount. I was officially and unequivocally in over my head.

The telephone-conference repair-by-advice method was now out the window. It was time to get someone to work on the machine in person. I started discussing with Todd in Wisconsin what it would take to get him to come work on my machine. When you start adding up travel time from Wisconsin to central Kansas, hotel expense, hourly repair rates for an unknown amount of days perhaps requiring a wait for parts, for a machine that might just be a basket case… It causes the head to spin.

Todd was busy. It was going to be 6 months or so before he could carve out a week or so to drive down look at my problem child. I was beginning to have dreams that involved solving the machine’s issues with dynamite.

I decided to try checking the other recommendation for a service tech that came from the PM crowd again. I emailed Chris in Kansas City again. He responded immediately. He remembered my problem and actually thought he had responded to my initial email for help. He was really busy at the time and must have simply forgotten to reply. He figured that since I hadn’t tried to contact him again I had solved my problems. I described the preceding events and he walked me through the e-stop string again. Then he came to visit. I believe it was March or early April.

Chris spent a day chasing around the machine with his Fluke meter and diagrams spread out here and there, muttering, scratching his head and wondering aloud about how big and clunky all the components of this machine were compared to the Japanese machines he usually works on.
He started around 10 AM. It’s a three hour drive from his Kansas City home to the middle of the state where I reside. I was starting to worry he was going to have to make another trip because it was well past usual closing time and I had been at work since 5AM or so and was running out of steam. Then I heard him say, “Ah ha!”

He had made his way into the control cabinet and had found a burned out read-relay in the middle of an array of about 200 of them on the main control board. (Did I mention that this beast has two and a half separate controls?) This little bitty relay, about 3/16 of an inch by 1/2, was responsible for enabling the 24v signal that all the rest of the conditions in the e-stop string were satisfied in order to send any power to the main relays in the power cabinet. Chris said, “Those things almost never fail! Look at it. It has literally spilled its guts.” I was somewhat relieved that a single real culprit had been located but I was a little bummed because now I’d have to wait for a part and then another opening in Chris’ busy schedule for him to make it back out to the hinterland. “How long until you can get one and come back to install it,” I asked.

“I think I may have one in my parts box,” He said. Twenty minutes later the beast came out of E-stop and clattered back to life. It still had a feed hold condition but that was an external alarm so he figured that it would be an easy fix and the tailstock issue was a likely suspect (perhaps a stuck valve and a flow sensor throwing the alarm.) Next thing to check was the homing sequence. The axes homed as they should but the next step, which is homing the live turret, refused to happen. It was well into evening. Chris had a 3 hour drive home and I had to be back at the shop at 5 the next morning so we parted with the assurance that he’d be back as soon as his schedule permitted to finish up getting the beast running. “Soon” became August.

I never was upset about the long lags between bouts of actual repair. I know what it is like to repair things for a living. It is constant triage: The most urgent, followed by the most obnoxious, followed by the good steady customers (and hopefully you haven’t driven them into either of the earlier categories by the time you get to their work.) My need for the lathe was not urgent. I refuse to be obnoxious (at least in a business context, my wife has another opinion.) I wasn’t a steady customer and I’m a 6 hour round trip from him. Chris had never worked on Hardinge machines so there was some research that I needed to do before he could dig much deeper. I was profoundly busy so the recalcitrant blue lathe kept getting shifted to the back burner.

I mentioned that this thing has 3 brains. Really, it does. It has a main control that rules the #1 (top) turret, most spindle functions and a lot of the ancillary machine functions like the coolant pump. It has a second independent (but subservient) control for turret 2. It pretty much only controls Turret two and the part catcher door. The turrets are controlled by completely separate programs, with separate program numbers, which have to be loaded separately and which are synchronized by 3 digit M codes. There are spindle commands that cannot be in a turret 2 program. Quite a few M codes can only be used in a program in control #1. For example M01, M13 and M14 can only be called from a turret 1 program. There are others. But that is immaterial; it is of the 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] brain that I need to speak.

This machine is also live tooled. It has a “Powermate” which is a Fanuc mini control to run the motor driving the live tools and also indexing the top turret. Since this machine is capable of cross and face tapping, the drive for the live tools must be dexterous enough for rigid tapping (which the spindle is not.) That requires a hind brain like those lumbering dinosaurs that were so long that they needed a separate brain in their butt to control their tail and back end. Not at all ironic.

When I was shown the machine I was shown this little box atop the back right corner of the machine and warned that the batteries in it (3 D-cells) needed to be changed at least once a year in order to preserve the machine’s parameters. The machine needed to be powered up and then the batteries could be changed without worry and all would be well.

Back in December of 2012 one of the City Electrical workers let me know that my power was going to be down for a while so they could change out a transformer down the block. I got nervous. My little brain said, “Quick change them batteries!” So I turned on the main power and the control and changed the batteries. A little red LED came on when I took the batteries out. It did not go out when the new batteries went in. I reinstalled the old ones. Light still on. I grabbed a voltage meter and checked the batteries. They checked out. I reinstalled them. I was staring at that LED when my power went out.

I was worried. A machine that wouldn’t power up and that had potentially lost its parameters; now that is a ship anchor if I ever heard of one. I was kicking myself and wondering what I could have done differently and chiding myself for not running away screaming when I first saw the thing.

When the power came back on I reluctantly tried to power up the control to see what was left. No problem. Everything that was working prior to changing the batteries was still working. The little red LED was now off. I breathed a confused sigh of relief and went on with my life.

I have come to the certain knowledge that the main controls have bubble memory. No external batteries required. It is the parameters of the Powermate that are preserved by Duracell. I did not know that last winter prior to Chris’s resurrection of the Slant Bed.

When the relay was replaced in the main control board, the E-stop condition was released and the hydraulics etc were allowed to come back to life. However the top turret, when its turn to home came around, just lifted and refused to spin. After some questions on PM, and another slog through the maintenance manuals a gradually dawning horror swept over me. I came to the conclusion that back in the dark days of winter in an effort to preserve the machine’s brain I had erased the parameters of the Powermate. The logic ladder dictates that the top turret must home prior to feed-hold being released. You can’t even edit a program until that turret has homed. The homing sequence is managed by that third brain above the machine’s butt. I was sure I was screwed.

This story is getting WAY too long and there is a long way to go. Fast forward to August, a nice guy from Hardinge has emailed me the parameters for the Powermate along with entry instructions. Research had located a data entry terminal that could be had for a couple K. Reading the entry instructions I am struck by a line. “Make certain that the door interlock plunger is pulled all the way out. If the interlock is not thus disabled the turret will lift but motion will be inhibited.” I thought, “No way could it be that simple.” It was. In all the ins and outs, through all the cabinets of the machine the spring loaded plunger adjusting mechanism of the Powermate interlock had loosened up. Any other interlock left open will cause an E-stop and an easily locatable alarm in the diagnostics. This one just simply disables the functions of the Powermate. There was a red hand print on my forehead for days.

The machine was still in feed hold but now it homed and wanted to be ready to do things. With it back to that stage I prevailed upon Chris to come back and figure out what was up with the tailstock. I was convinced and Chris allowed for the possibility that my final issue was there. There were (actually still are) issues with the tailstock. One of the large solid state relays in the power cabinet had screwed up in such a way that it was energizing both sides of a solenoid coil in the hydraulic stack. Said coil had burned out locking that spool ever so slightly open. With the hydraulics up and the tailstock pressure valve open even a little bit it would eventually come visit its over-travel proximity switch. Coil removed and light bulb put in the tailstock home indicator lamp. The tail stock now stayed home but it didn’t solve the problem.

Chris found several other minor issues. Nothing brought the thing out of feed hold. And now for the final dope slap moment.

The very first piece of advice/suggestion given to me in my initial query on PM (and an item mentioned by Bob right after the purchase of the beast) was that there is a jumper that must be installed if the bar feed isn’t attached. I spent numerous hours in the early days checking and rechecking to be sure that the thing was in place. I spent a lot of time looking through the diagnostic code list to see if there was a sure way to tell that it was properly installed but found nothing there. The jumper was simply a piece of heavy aluminum wire bent in a U shape and slipped into a nine pin round connecter to match the control cable for the bar feed. Early on, nothing I did to the jumper made any difference to the machine. Its lack of influence caused me to believe it was properly installed.

It was in the right holes but it was apparently ever so slightly too small or perhaps just corroded enough to not make contact. One day when I had a few moments, like an obsessive compulsive turning a doorknob 3 times each way before entering a room, I absently did something I’d done at least a dozen times before, check the pin numbers and reinstall the jumper, suddenly the final feed hold released and the machine was finally fully live.

I ignored phone calls that day. I jogged axes. I executed MDI moves. I learned how to not set offsets (the programming manual is worded for radius programming and this machine is set up for Diameter programming. That was an option at the time of purchase and it seems to have every option possible. OK, it doesn’t have the chip auger but that hardly counts.) I began learning how to think in the mystical arcane language of the Hardinge amalgam; General Numeric/Fanuc/Siemens GN6T-C. I once again began dreaming big dreams and began to forget my thoughts of hauling the blue beast into the country and raising rabbits in it.

In the end all is well. I think. The Super-Slant is making parts and holding tolerances. I have been living with my fingers crossed and knocking wood wherever I find it. Not literally, but there is something in me that fears that as soon as I say it is working it will stop. But shipping parts has a way of increasing confidence. I had a couple minor crashes during early program development. Two turrets moving simultaneously can cause some surprising events once you switch from setup mode (block by block) to fully enabled operation. Fortunately I had the sense to have the rapids turned to 50% on that first fully enabled run. Also I keep finding codes that don’t function as intended in a turret 2 program but, 20 months after committing to buy it, I am finally getting some inward cash flow from it. Whew.

And now, at the end of a way to long dissertation on my naïveté and inexperience, I have to ponder the question: Was the purchase a good idea. Answer: The jury is still out. If it keeps running and making parts for the next 5 years then it was a brilliant success. If it dies again next week it will be one of the worst decisions I’ve made. Reality will probably fall somewhere between those extremes. Only time will tell.

Perhaps the better question is: Would I purchase it again knowing what I know now. The answer to that is no. I lost a little credibility with a couple customers that I presold my turning capabilities to while I was waiting on shipping and an electrician. But that is a valuable lesson learned. Don’t sell what you do not have! I’ve learned more about the insides of an antiquated Hardinge than I wanted/expected to. That isn’t a really good résumé piece but it goes with the old machine tool territory. I was a little surprised by how little knowledge is available (or that I was able to find) about old Hardinge CNCs. There were two CNC shops in this area that ran almost exclusively Hardinge machines. I assumed that meant that they were pretty common. Both shops are out of business now. Perhaps that should have given me a sign.

If I factor in the value of the work I had lined up and I would have been able to do if it had arrived running (and/or had robust tech support included in the sale), the cost of the time I personally spent on it, the money I spent on diagnosis/repair and the hair I’m never going to get back I think I would have been better off purchasing something used from a reputable dealer even if it was a lot more money. On the other hand I might not have pulled the trigger on something in that price range. I guess I’ll never know. I know now that I have a functional CNC lathe being without one is only reasonable if I get out of the machining game all together.
It has run flawlessly for the last several weeks, and I fully expect it to run that way tomorrow, so perhaps it was a good purchase. I hope something in these pages is of use to someone. I guess writing it all out has been a cathartic experience for me and thus the money I haven’t had to spend on counseling perhaps offsets the pains of getting this machine on line. Once again, only time will tell.


Aug 20, 2011
Northern Germany
That was a good read....especially the final part with the jumper. So typical. Everything seems fooked up.And in the end....its a loose wire, a droplet of solder or some other random, completely harmless but still deal breaking junk....

I wish you the the best of luck and my fingers are crossed...


Feb 7, 2013
Thanks for the story ,you write well .

I went through a similar although perhaps not quite so bad saga with my first CNC,it was not technically as bad as yours but got way out of hand due to the incompitence of a succession of techs. who I am convinced initially thought they new what was wrong and were trying to draw more money out of the job only to find that they were wrong and couldn't solve the problem.Eventually I tracked it down it down to lumps of rust coming from the motor fan, after spending thousands on parts and labour with two different companies.

I have also heard quite a few nightmare stories regarding new machines and quality second hand ones so thins can go wrong no matter how you go about things.

Best of luck with your "new" machine and hopefully the difficult times will just be a bad memory.

Nick Mueller

Jun 12, 2006
Munich / Germany
Nice reading! Wait! It's not fair to say that I liked to read that. Interesting reading is better. ;)

I did understand your feelings and why you thought to solve the problem with dynamite.

After that long saga, it only would be fair if she keeps running for 10 years and more.
All the best and thanks for sharing!


Heavey Metal

May 10, 2011
Life (like tool repair) is as simple or complicated as you make it.

Questions are: did you learn some skills,did you learn to record your findings in a logical way(ie ladder diagram).

Patience grasshopper.


Jul 14, 2009
Peoria, IL
Important lessons learned here. Beware the high cost of cheap tools. For $20k you surely could have bought more machine than you ended up with. I have passed on several cheap machines because the rigging was more than the machine was worth.


Hot Rolled
Jan 9, 2003
Excellent read, and not too far dissimilar to a process I went through recently with a Traub TND350G live tooled CNC lathe: If you have the time the story is here on the Madmodder forum called 'Oh Blimey I bought a CNC Lathe':

Oh Blimey I bought a CNC Lathe !!!!

To see the pictures you'll have to register, but it's an interesting forum full of good people



Mar 30, 2007
Brighton, Michigan
A lot of life and business lessons contained in this 8000-word post (of which I read about 6,000 words). What a journey! The rigging part was goofy but I have had similar experiences and as a result am now set to rig, lift, and transport any machine up to 10,000 pounds by myself. It seems like most professional rigging companies in my area (Detroit) want jobs on the order of relocating a closed automobile assembly plant to Pakistan and cannot be troubled with a simple machine move.


Feb 24, 2009
Midwestern MN/Wi USA
1. Never buy junk
2. Ensure the machine will do exactly what you want it to
3. Dont assume you can fix it with just "this" or "that"
4. Prequote everything down to the wiring and toolholders
5. Dont buy a model from a mfg that is extinct

$6K for a live tooling CNC lathe with a bar feeder, what did you expect? I know its hard when your small but in this day and age the only deals are at auctions and that is a huge gamble.


Jul 14, 2009
Peoria, IL
I disagree to an extent. If you are in the game to make money running a machine, and you have work lined up, buy the best machine you can afford and get to it.

However, if you are looking to expand your capability without risking a lot of money, these basket cases can do it. People are absolutely scared to death of broken CNC machines. I mean terrified.

I have bought many, and fixed them. Fixing a CNC is no more complex than fixing anything else. Obviously, a machine with a gillion hours and worn ways or screws is never going to be worth fixing. But, most times, repairs are actually simple. Things like replacing the thrust bearings on the ball screws, or lining up the turret, or replacing a hydraulic pump.

If the machine has Fanuc controls, there is a good chance you can find any board or component second hand. Other controls like Mazak and Okuma and Haas are supported back to the stone age.

Other machines like Fadal, Haas, and many Mazak lathes were so popular that parts are everywhere. Search ebay for QT10 or QT15. Anything you could want is out there.

You have to buy it right, but I love a fixer-upper.


Aug 2, 2012
Pittsburg, KS
I appreciate the post very much. I think that even those guys that have bought a bunch of machines in various states of old junk to brand new have had trying times as well. There will always be something that was unexpected and not accounted for. In alot of the cases is is not the machine itself but the other things that go awry, like the rigging or what ever. I did the best I knew how last year to research and buy my cnc router. I had everything accounted for that I could think of then I had a couple set backs that kept the machine from being delivered for 2.5 months. I found out after purchase that my local rigger could not do the job, I should have dug deeper on that one. I had worked with him many times before and he moved a machine like it in the past for me at the old job, so I thought it was a no brainer. Oops, had to get an outside company that cost alot more and I didn't have the money. At the same time, I had a deal with a mason to cut the hole in my building for a overhead door so that I could get the machine in. That fell through and I got to do it myself, took forever.
All this time going by and my machine is setting at the dealer paid for and I am making the payment on it and I can't even touch it without a plane flight. Very depressing. When the day came, it went very smooth and nothing bad happened. I did have it up and running the next day. It took a week or so to get the PC and dnc program and cable setup to download a program, but it was pretty easy to get that done.

I will say that a big part of my decision to buy the machine I did was that it was a brand and model that I had intimate knowledge of. I ran it's sister for 7 years at my old job. I knew all the good and bad about them and I also knew most of the guys in the country that I could call if I had an issue. I have bought brand new $200k machines for the old job and have been through the job of buying, selling and moving, hooking up etc quite a few times before and I still goofed on a couple things. It worked out fine, got another story to tell and add to the now I know better list.

I did almost buy a pair of Shoda routers from a guy that I could have bought both for under $10k, they were mid 80's machines, had not even been powered up for 10 years ish, the current owner had neverseen them run or the guy he bought them from. THey were close too. I thought about it a long time and decided it was a nightmare waiting to happen. If I knew them better etc, I might have done it. I do not regret buying a machine that was running when it left the dealer at all though.

Thanks again for the post


Nov 1, 2004
I don't get it.
Shouldn't an epic story like this be.... To Be Continued.... (trademark)

T. Jost

Cast Iron
Jan 28, 2007
Hillsboro, Kansas USA
I thought about stringing it along with a few dozen "To be continued" breaks, however I'm a humble "cast iron" member and assumed that that sort of story treatment was only allowed for "Titanium" and above posters.


Cast Iron
Dec 23, 2008
what no pics? ...no illustrations? , a good read though with a good ending.:) Been there to some degree on 2 of my mills....rewarding when it turns out good, I bet she works for many years now that you've taken "ownership" of her.