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Moving a Machine Tool
FAQ Home Page

Photographs of strapped-down machines here

The first advice? You'd never have guessed it … .remove rings from fingers, bangles from wrists, bracelets from necks - and any other jewellery or other items that that might get snagged and pull you over. Wearing tight-fitting clothing - a boiler suit for example - also helps to keep you safe,

It's surprising how many machines topple over each year - even in the hands of experienced shifters. After many years of digging them out of sheds at the bottom of gardens, cellars, the top floors of warehouses, bricked up in abandoned buildings and buried under feet of chicken droppings - I've stopped now, thank goodness - you may find the following tips useful:

If your machine weights more than 750 kg it's safest to use a professional mover - especially if your new pride and joy in an awkward location. However, do ensure that they are not part-time amateurs, are properly insured and can provide references.

If you intend to shift it yourself remember that machines on stands are usually very top heavy and, when moving them, the rule is - "a little at a time".
Do not attempt the job on your own. As an essential safety measure employ an extra person whose only job is to stand back and observe. Agree with him, or her, before work starts what will be shouted as a warning if the machine starts to topple over. If it does go, let it fall; once on its way there will be no stopping it - and attempting to stop will kill or injure you.
Between each movement stop, look and think

Moving a small lathe like a Myford or Boxford is relatively straightforward and can be done with even a small hatchback car. If you check the weight of the heaviest versions, the Super 7 and Boxford Model A, you'll see that they are less than two back-seat  passengers and their luggage. If there's a stand you'll need a larger car of course - or a strong roof rack (do check the load limitations though for insurance purposes).

A trailer is generally the best way to move a machine tool. They can be hired or bought second-hand for a modest cost and then immediately sold on if not required for further use. If hiring, try to get one with a drop-down or tilt deck and fitted with a winch; this will make loading so much easier.

In my experience it's useful to have with you the following:
- an engine crane or portable gantry to move something that three men can't lift. These can be hired from many tool shops.
- a 5-foot long crow bar together with a smaller one
- several lengths of steel bar or thick-walled tube around 4 feet long and from 1 to 3 inches in diameter for rolling the machine across the floor. For sliding very heavy machines about professional machine "skates" are also handy - they are also not too hard to make with examples found by Googling.
- as many stout blocks of wood - of varying thickness - as you can find. These can be inserted one at a time around the machine to chock the machine up should it be necessary to slide the engine crane legs underneath. They also make useful wedges to locate a machine in a trailer.
-  a minimum of four professional-quality proper lifting strops - these are not too expensive to buy new. The lighter, cheaper type sold in car-accessory shops for holding luggage on roof racks are useless for holding machinery.
- 20 metres of good quality rope
- a car-type jack
- a bottle jack
- do not use chains to strap a machine down, they can mark, bend and even break parts.

Instead of relying on brute strength I always used an engine crane or portable gantry. If you don't have one, both can usually be hired - the gantry type coming with a block and tackle.
It's often the case that machines have various holes in their stands through which bars can be passed - the lifting strops or chains being passed around these. Some have tapped holes to take screw-in eye bolts (some Colchester lathes being an example). Do make sure you have bolts with the correct thread….

For larger, heavier  machines consider hiring a 3-ton truck that can be driven on a car licence - these can often be had with a powered tail lift capable of lifting 0.5 tons. It can be entertaining getting the machine in place on the lift but, with a crowbar, judiciously-placed rollers - and some care -  it can be done.
Although something like a Transit van might seem ideal, the height of the floor above the ground and the lack of access for lifting in are serious drawbacks. (unless you have a forklift truck at both ends of the exercise…)

When driving your laden vehicle do remember it's now top heavy and you certainly need to proceed cautiously avoiding heavy braking and taking bends gently...

This page has links to various recommended ways of lifting machines

It is, of course, possible to lighten a machine by removing easily unscrewed or slid-off parts and unbolting the motor. It's definitely not  advisable to disturb items such as the headstock or the carriage of a lathe. However, even with all the parts still in place, with two strong chaps at the heavy (headstock) end of a lathe and a single normal one at the other, it should be possible to move it.
Milling machines can usually have their table removed without too much trouble (unless there is a power-feed mechanism) and often the entire knee as well.

If the floor is reasonably smooth you can lift the machine up, push the trailer under by hand, back the car up, couple up and then lower away. It's vital to ensure the straps holding the machine in place do not press against and so bend any shafts - if necessary, small blocks of wood can be used to pack out the strop runs.

Strapping should be arranged so that the machine is pulled down from each corner  by an individual strop  - two pulling forward and two backwards thus holding it by fore and aft tension. It's no good just passing the strops over the machine, they need to be securely wrapped around something substantial - preferably set high up. The previously-mentioned blocks of wood can be used to chock the machine into the correct position,
Check that the weight on the nose of the trailer is correct. If too light you will suffer snaking and a possible disaster, if too heavy the efficiency of the front brakes can be seriously impaired.
Want to see what might go wrong? Search for "trailer accidents" on YouTube.

If you disconnect any motors or wiring be sure to mark the cables with the greatest of care and complete clarity. Take your time over this and get it right. It's a good idea to photograph the wiring and connections before starting work.

If you are putting a vertical milling machine, a bandsaw or similar tall machine into a trailer or van consider (if damage won't occur) lowering onto its back using an engine crane or gantry and transporting it in that position. They really are top heavy and dangerous when travelling standing up in a small trailer.
To protect the machine when on its back (do check very carefully for any part that might be damaged), use several old tyres - they can often be picked up free of charge from any tyre depot. 

Moving a Machine Tool
Photographs of strapped-down machines  here

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