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Richard J. Kinch
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Solo Moving and Hoisting an 800-Pound Mill-Drill

The HF 33686 Mill-Drill (Harbor Freight sales page) is a massive, 800-pound machine, requiring some extraordinary moving effort and techniques, at least for someone like me who has never moved anything heavier than household furniture and office equipment. An item this heavy is in a different class of worldly possessions. With musculoskeletal effort alone, you cannot tip the unit to place wheels underneath, nor can you control its descent down a ramp. You must use tools and techniques to amplify your unaided lifting abilities. If the item tips, rolls, or falls unexpectedly, it will damage or destroy itself and whatever is in the way, including personnel.

The crew at the local warehouse loaded the crate effortlessly with their forklift onto the back of one of the smaller U-Haul trucks for me. They made as if that was all the rigging needed for the road, slapped me on the back, and gave me hearty wishes that I would enjoy my new purchase. I expressed concern about the loose load shifting in any kind of braking or turn. They brought out a new set of those ratcheting cargo straps from the store, and secured the crate to the tie-down points of the truck walls. Nevertheless, I took my time driving home.

After arriving home, happy to have experienced no sudden turns or stops, I unstrapped the crate from the truck walls, and stood pondering my predicament. The next step had to be to get some sturdy wheels underneath. I used a 6-foot wrecking bar as a lever, with a variety of wood blocks, to methodically jack up the skid 6 inches off the floor, so that I could slide a furniture dolly (rated for 1000 lbs, see SKU 639092 at Home Depot) under the skid.

I removed the sides of the crate, and then used C-clamps to clamp the skid onto the dolly. I wanted the dolly attached securely to the skid, to remove the possibility of unexpected motion in that regard from the complexities at hand. Now I could manage to roll the crate by hand on the floor of the truck. I nudged it just up to the back ledge.

These types of rental trucks provide a sturdy ramp (rated for 1000 lbs) that positions flush with the back ledge of the truck floor. I extended the ramp onto the concrete floor of the garage. I fixed a come-along, extended with one of the cargo straps, to a center tie down in the front of the truck hold. I used steel chain through the throats of a pair of the C-clamps on the skid to fix the other end of the come-along to the machine. Now I could use the come-along as a ratcheting winch to restrain the descent of the wheeled skid down the truck ramp. The dolly happened to be conveniently sized to hold the skid without tipping, but also fit inside the raised edges of the truck ramp. Ratcheting the load down the ramp was tedious but otherwise uneventful. When the leading pair of wheels left the ramp and just touched the floor, I removed the come-along, and pushed the load the rest of the way off the ramp. It rolled gloriously free onto the smooth concrete slab of the garage floor.

In the garage, the wheels gave me freedom to roll the unit to its target location, but I puzzled over an attachment method to hoist the unit onto its stand. The belt cover on the top of the machine is so large as to make a sling very difficult or unstable to attach. I decided to remove the belt cover to expose the top of the milling head, hoping to find a threaded hole or other attachment point that must have been necessary for production of the tool. This removal required removing the spindle pulley and nut, the idler pulley bracket, and the motor wiring. Once exposed, I didn't find any threaded holes other than the rather small M8x1.25 bolts for the cover (an M8 eyebolt would be marginal for this load, and would have to be mail-ordered). However, I did discover that the center of the head casting was hollow and that the hollow passed completely through the top and bottom behind the spindle. Indeed, it was not necessary for me to have removed the belt cover; it would have been simpler to have cut a hole in the sheet metal of the cover and then pass a chain or cable through the passage. This passage would permit the use of a bracket consisting of a plate and eyebolt. To make such a bracket, I happened to have piece of scrap 4-inch steel angle, 10 inches long. Into this I drilled a 1/2-inch hole and attached a 1/2-inch eyebolt. This eyebolt was the open-ended hardware-store type without a load rating, not the stronger forged type rated for lifting, but looking over the load ratings of the forged types in the MSC catalog convinced me that the open hook style had to have no problem holding 800 lbs. Now I had an attachment point for a hoisting chain which was about centered on the unit and near the top of the geometry, which makes for a secure and steady lift.

For an overhead hoisting point, in the attic above the installation spot, I placed a 3-foot piece of Superstrut across the joists of two roof trusses. This divided the load across the two trusses. Furthermore, these trusses are anchored to a concrete wall about 2 feet away. I had no design data, but my intuition indicated that this would be sufficient for the load. Into this Superstrut, from below in the garage, I inserted another 1/2-inch eyebolt, this one 10-inches long to reach through the gypsum board ceiling, past the joist, and up through the Superstrut.

Now I had two secure eyebolts, one on the machine and one 9 feet overhead (the luxurious height of my garage ceiling), ready to receive the lifting force. I pushed the machine (still on the skid and the dolly) to the spot under the overhead eyebolt, and rigged the come-along (rated for 2000 lbs) between the eyebolts to hoist the load. I ratcheted the machine just off the ground, removed the C-clamps, and slid out the dolly. Now the machine hung suspended in the air, with the skid still attached. I removed the bolts holding the skid onto the machine, and the skid dropped off. Now the machine was completely unpacked and ready to lift onto the stand. The photo shows me posing with the mill on the skid and dolly, with the rigging attached and ready to hoist.

I moved the assembled stand adjacent to the machine, ready to receive it after the hoist. Using the ratcheting come-along, I lifted the machine 3 feet off the floor, which was a few inches above the stand. The machine now became a massive, twisting pendulum on the steel cable of the come-along, so one must steady it by hand. Adjusting the XY table position of the mill then neatly balanced the center of gravity of the machine below the suspension point.

I slid the stand under the levitated machine, and lowered the machine to just touch the stand. I attached and tightened the four bolts that attach the machine to the base. This lifted the base up slightly off the floor. I lowered the machine into partial contact with the floor, and nudged it into the final planned position. Finally, I released the rest of the hoisting force, which settled the machine into its final position, and dismantled the come-along. I left the ceiling hook in place, ready to hoist the machine back on the dolly for a future move, or perhaps to be able to separate and lift the head and/or column from the rest of the machine in the future. The photo shows the mill suspended in the air, held only by the rigging, with the skid remaining on the floor below.

While reassembling the belt cover to the top of the machine, I made a rough chalk outline on the inside of the cover's bottom half to mark the opening in the head I had used for attachment. This way, if I need to hoist the machine in the future, I can nibble or saw a hole in the sheet metal of the cover to expose the passage, which is much simpler than having to remove the cover. If such a hole were to be cut, it would be prudent to cover it somehow to keep debris from the pulley-and-belt area from falling into the spindle works.

After all that, for my most recent move in 2004, I recognized that I could simply drill a hole through the bottom of the sheet metal of the belt cover, This hole permits a chain to pass through the belt cover and the head casting. To drill this hole, I used a 1-5/8" hole-saw such as is commonly available in hardware stores for door-lock installing. Passing a chain through this hole, to an eyebolt and steel plate below placed under the casting hollow, provides a balanced overhead lifting point, without requiring anything be disassembled. This is the method I would most recommend.

A first test of operating the machine was to square a rough piece of structural steel into a precise rectangle (photo, 2nd photo). This piece started as 3/4 by 1 by 5 inches and finished slightly less. The finished sides were flat, square, and parallel to 0.001 inch.

Afterthoughts on the Move

I could have spent $60 more to rent a truck with a liftgate capable of handling an 800 lb crate. But I would still have needed to jack the skid onto the dolly, and once on the dolly, ratcheting the unit down the ramp was not that much effort or risk. So the liftgate wouldn't have been much help.

I could have used an engine crane with hydraulic lifter to lift the mill onto the stand. But installing the ceiling hook only cost a few dollars and a few minutes time. I've seen 2000 lb cranes for sale for as little as $150 at the tool store, and for rent at tool rental shops. Owning one of these costs significant storage space, even for the folding type. The legs have quite a spread and require a lot of clearance at floor level all along the path of moving. But for a heavier machine, at some point the wood-frame ceiling trusses are inadequate and one must use a crane.

In 2003 I bought one of the HF 46766 2-ton foldable shop cranes (Harbor Freight sales page) in order to move another machine. I've since used this crane to lift the mill-drill using the hole in the belt cover, and this worked very well. I only used the crane to lift and lower the mill-drill on and off a heavy-duty platform truck, not for rolling the machine about. Rolling that crane while it was suspending an 800-lb pendulum would require great care.

Many knowledgeable people deprecate come-alongs as a rigging component, and after this job I tend to agree. I wouldn't want to depend on one in a critical lifting situation such as overhead hoisting for anything near its rated capacity. They seem very much prone, at the worst possible moment. to errors of manipulation, accidents, and failures. Of course they are are cheap, and this is why it is tempting to use them, instead of buying or renting cranes, forklifts, winches, chain-hoists, and the like. I would estimate that they are really only feasible for sub-1000 lb loads. Above that you ought to use more serious and reliable methods and equipment.

Have a comment or question about my machine shop?
Email me at:
Richard J. Kinch
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