The Engine Lathe
is a common manually operated metal turning lathe.
The standard lathe has a stepped pulley or gear box for different spindle speeds,
gears to drive the carriage which supports the cutting tools and a tailstock to support long work and to drill holes in work supported in the spindle.
The simplest stripped down lathe does not have chucks.
Work is supported on a "face plate" or in between centers (60° points).
Tapered shank drills are used directly in the tailstock.
However, it is much more convenient to use a lathe with accessory chucks to hold work and standard drill bits.
were VERY common in blacksmith shops during the 19th and 20th centuries and still SHOULD BE today.
The 1916 Sears Blacksmith and Farrier Tools catalog had more lathes than any other tool or machine including forges and anvils!
The image below is from a 1920 Champion Blower and Forge
There is no more useful machine tool than the Engine Lathe.
It has been said that the Engine Lathe is the only machine that can reproduce itself and this is very nearly true.
All the shafts and pullys of a lathe can be reproduced on the same machine.
Many of the other parts can be squared up, bored and threads chased.
It is even possible (though very inefficient) to make gears on a lathe.
A lathe can be used to drill and bore holes, square blocks, machine dies, make parts (pins, bushings and shafts) for tools and machines, make large and small tenons, spin sheet metal.
The modern blacksmith shop is full of machinery that are often old antiques that need replacement parts made and an Engine Lathe is THE TOOL to do it with.
Related to the blacksmith shop I have used a small 6" lathe to make:
- Candle cup dies
- Blanking punches and dies
- Machining precision tenons (individually or in production)
- Cutting round blanks (friction driven, no center hole)
- Twisting small stock (1/8" and 3/16") and wire.
- Bearing blocks and bushings for a hydraulic press
- Forge burner nozzles
- Bender dies and wheels
- Foundry pattern core prints and core boxes
- Sprue patterns
- Dapping (small swage) blocks
- JYH crank pin, link block and bushing
Old lathes can often be bought relatively inexpensively.
Southbend made fairly decent lathes.
They ranged from the early flat belt drive machines to the heavy 16" tool room lathes that were found in many high schools.
I have a little 6" Craftsman lathe from 1950, a 13" long bed 1936 Southbend and a 14" Porter from around 1899.
Dave Baker turning power hammer parts on the guru's 60 year old 6" Craftsman Lathe.
For small work the small lathe is more convenient than the larger lathe.
However, if the work is bigger than 3/4" the larger lathe is much more efficient and does a better job.
There are no parts available and very few tools available for these lathes.
Lathes either came with quick change gear boxes or did not. Forget chasing threads if it did not. Usually you can find some other way in the time it takes to setup change gears. If the lathe does not have a QC box then be sure it has the stack of change gears and bushings that came with it.
The important thing about old lathes is that they have all the standard attachments.
These normally came with the lathe as a minimum
- Face plate
- Centers (2)
- Drive dogs (set of 4-6)
- Tool Post
- Tool holders (left, right, center)
- Steady rest
Then there are the optional attachments.
Theses were often bundled with the lathe OR should have been purchased by the original owner:
- Drive dog plate
- 4 Jaw Chuck
- 3 Jaw Chuck (both sets of jaws)
- Tail Stock Jacobs chuck
- Follower Rest
- Live Center
- Special Tool Holders
Optional Special Purpose Attachments:
- Taper Attachment
- Milling Attachment
- Wood turning centers
- Bull Center
The first group comes with the lathe.
The second were often bundled with the lathe OR should have been purchased by the original owner.
They make the lathe efficient and enjoyable to use. They are the minimum for serious general use.
Of the last group the milling attachment is practically worthless unless the lathe is heavy and in good shape.
The taper attachment is VERY handy.
Wood turning centers are not necessary to do wood turning but are helpful.
The bull center is needed for tubing and pipe turning. I manufactured one for my 6" lathe from a standard size live center.
The advantage of buying an old lathe is that it SHOULD come with the tooling.
However, it is common for machinery dealers to buy old machines and sell the tooling off separately because much of it works with later model machines.
Thus there are lots of old machines around that are missing even the change gears and face plate that were PART OF THE LATHE!
I have also run into folks having lost one of the jaws from on of the sets for a three jaw (scroll) chuck.
There are no replacements and making one is nearly impossible. This makes the chuck nearly worthless. You can purchase new chucks to fit old lathes but one chuck will likely cost more than what you paid for the lathe.
Machine tools without the furniture or attachments are a pain to use and not very useful. When I setup old machines I will go to the expense to buy chucks, tool holders and various pieces costing much more than the original tool in order to make it useful. It makes a HUGE difference. See my iForge demo on Drill Press Furniture for an example of tooling you can make in the blacksmith shop. I have similar bolts and clamps for use with my lathe faceplates.
So, look close, take inventory. It may be a good deal OR may be a money pit. If you are unfamiliar with the tooling I have named or what it is for then get a book on machine work and study it before looking at used machinery.