Sher Drill Press, Toolpost and Valve Seat Grinders - Australia
Of high quality and neat, simple design, the Sher miniature precision drill press was manufactured in Australia by one William Peter Sher, a Viennese electrical engineer who had worked in early European power-tool manufacture before emigrating to Australia in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution. Based in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Sher Power Tools Pty. Ltd. began making power tools in 1940, the company being bought out, in 1967, by the Skil Tool Company of the USA. The drill shown below was probably made between the early 1950s and the mid-1960s.
A professional quality machine, the Sher was intended to drill only very small holes and aimed at workers such as jewellers, watch and clock makers and instrument repairers. Its basic functions - just a single speed - would not, for its purpose, have distracted from its functionality and would have provided for its buyers a useful alternative to the very heavy, much larger and more expensive, industrial-class, multi-speed bench types offered by such makers as Jones & Shipman and Pollard.
Saved by Mark Harris, the drill was recovered, in a very neglected condition, from a garbage dump recycling shop, an employee telling the story that it came from a skip full of somebody's basement instrument repair workshop - and was the only item (from amongst all the small tools and hardware dumped in the landfill mud ) that was recovered. Upon examination, the Sher proved to be especially well built, the drilling function being by a lever-operated rack-and-pinion drive that moved a round table - of cast iron - up and down on a solid steel column that socketed into the base casting. To set a fixed drilling depth, the lever shaft carried an adjustable boss that ran up against a stop pin set into the side of the base. As the table's vertical travel was only slight, for coarse settings the 10,000 r.p.m., the 230 Volt, 1.3 Amp "Universal" AC/DC motor could be slid up and down the main column - and locked at the desired height. The new owner reports that the motor was not too bad internally, with just a small amount of rust on the stator laminations that came off easily. The rotor windings were coated in a thick, clear resin and looked like new, though the commutator and brushes were worn. New, oversize brushes were sanded down to fit and the commutator skimmed in the lathe.
One bearing was a bit worse for wear and looked as though it had spun in its housing - with whoever had replaced it crudely prick punching the journal to secure it; the bearing was sliced with a grinder and the inner race cracked to get it off. The iron castings had a few areas with the original black finish preserved under layers of fine brass dust and hard grease - the black looking just like the old-school iron finish of lamp black mixed with shellac. The 1.5-inch diameter steel post caused a bit of a problem as it appeared to be secured in the base by a blind stud or possibly a taper pin; however the fastening eventually revealed itself to be an old bicycle-style crank cotter pin - the motor-casting-to-post fitting being identical: simple, effective and economical. Everything rusty was sanded off in the lathe and a coat of grey acrylic Hammertone paint applied. The aluminium motor housing looked to be black-sand casting and unpolished in its original state. Some basic fettling of the castings was undertaken with sanding of the filing and grinding marks with wet and dry before giving it a heavy polishing buff. After a bit of careful assembly - and the new commutator bearing secured with a medium-strength threadlocker - the whole machine was back together again. As a test, a 100 Watt bulb was put in series with the motor and power applied; as it spun slowly with no fireworks it was given the full 240 volts and spun up nicely - not even being as loud as one might expect from a 10,000 r.p.m. unit (that runs at 13,000 r.p.m. under no load).
As similar small drills for printed circuit boards work and drilling lenses in optometry work are around $2000 new, the re-builder is justifiably pleased with how the job turned out, it cost just $100 plus some enjoyable, spare-time work - while also preserving a bit of Australian power tool history.
A former apprentice in a defence establishment workshop recalls, many decades ago, a steady flow of power tools being sent in for repair, these being mainly cheaper imports drills - of which most had burned commutators, or burned-out armatures, these being rewound as necessary. However, all the Sher drills that passed through the repair facility proved to be of superior quality and only ever needed new switches (Peter Sher's biography states that he believed in making a long-lasting tool - and that imported power tools were designed to wear out).
The Sher |Company are known to have made other power tools drills as well, including hand-held drills and ones adapted to become lathe toolpost grinders. One example of a Sher drill was recalled as being a very heavy, two-speed unit with "sufficient torque to be considered dangerous in the hands of a youngster."
William Sher's son, Ronald, continued the family's traditional involvement in engineering by manufacturing power tools as Ronald Sher Pty. Ltd. and also, from 1972, making the Sherline "Model 1000" miniature lathe that employed aluminium extrusions as the basis for a rigid yet economical-to-produce machine. Harold Clisby, the lathe's designer, had contacted Ron's company for help in developing a suitably compact and powerful motor. However, after Mr. Clisby turned to manufacturing air compressors, it was Ron Sher who registered the name Sherline Products and put the lathe into production (see http://sherline.com/about/sherline-history for further details).
Drills aimed at a similar market to the Sher included the English, Wa-Co and Oldak and the American Servo and Precise - the latter also, like Sher, producing amongst other items a number of small, very high-quality electric power tools.
With thanks to Mark Harris and peter Short in Australia for the pictures and details - if you have a different Sher tool of any type, and would like to see it included in the Archive, please do contact the writer..