A Mystery Lathe That Followed Me Home
Searching for an ID
by George Langford, Sc.D.
Updated February 4, 2005
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Most probably this is a patternmaker's lathe
This old lathe came to me in a trade at the February 2, 2003, CRAFTS of New Jersey tailgating.  It caught my eye because it's nearly complete, and because the parts are all in good condition.  It swings about seven-and-a-half inches; there's a four-inch swing over the cross slide.  Someone had invested quite a bit of effort in replacing some key parts: the crossfeed screws and their nuts (both the longitudinal and the transverse), the tailstock spindle & its feed screw, particularly.  What's missing are the countershaft and the bed.  The main parts were meant to be clamped to the bed with wing nuts and washers (two sets of which were included) that bore on the underside of the bed.  That means the bed had to have a clear slot down the middle so that the crossfeed saddle and tailstock could be placed at will.  What's holding them in alignment in the images is a pair of steel rods.  The longitudinal feed slide only swings about thirty degrees off the axis of the workpiece; it's shown below at one of the maximum positions.  The bearing areas of the crossfeed assembly and the tailstock on the bed are tiny; neither component was intended to glide accurately along the ways.  There is only one lathe in Kenneth L. Cope's book, American Lathe Builders: 1810-1910, that has back gears and a stationary cross slide resting on  double-Vee shears.  That one was made by Amor & Bowker of New York City about 1880, but it has a more modern back-gear mechanism.
The end thrust of the spindle of this lathe bears against a dead center, and the main bearing appears to be bored directly into the iron headstock casting.  There is an oil hole above the front bearing, but it appears never to have held an oil cup.  The back gear mechanism is engaged quite unlike a modern lathe, because the engagement is effected by pulling out a pair of taper pins and sliding the gear carriage for and aftEvery back-geared lathe in  has the eccentric & lever mechanism that is familiar to most machinists.  The lack of a hole through the spindle, the stationary cross slide, and the archaic back-gear mechanism together indicate that the builder of this lathe had limited resources - a shop lathe not much bigger than this one with only a steady rest to support the new spindle while its center hole was bored - no planer to true the ways of the bed - and little experience visiting or working with other machine tool builders.  Furthermore, the lathe is driven by a round belt, not a Vee belt, indicating that it was made before anyone contemplated the need for the high power to cut with high speed steel tools.
Mystery lathe

Rear of headstock
The center has only a stubby little taper which one twists out with a wrench - there is no through hole in the spindle.
Tailstock feed handle looks original.
The crossslide dovetails are inlaid steel.