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Thread: Seneca Falls Star Lathe - Sale or Keep?

  1. #1
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Default Seneca Falls Star Lathe - Sale or Keep?

    Hi guys I just picked up a turn of the century Seneca Star treddle lathe that was converted over to eletric at some point. Any way I go got it very cheap but now I am trying to decide what to do with it. I would like a metal lathe about this size for my home shop. But I have never had one before. Will a an antique machine like this work for a small home shop? Or would I be better of selling and and trying to come up with something more modern? Oh and the motor works and so far everything seems to more correctly on the lathe. But I have not really had time to mess with it much.

    lathe06.jpglathe05.jpglathe03.jpglathe02.jpglathe01.jpg

  2. #2
    Weston R. Loomer is offline Aluminum
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    This machine certainly loks like it needs to be saved. It needs to be partnered up with someone who has the time and inclination to work on it. If you are that person, then I would say that it is a keeper. Search around the web some and see if you can find some photos of it's kinfolk. There are some like it out there that have been restored. Ask yourself if you would be proud to own it if it was restored. You will not make any money from the restoration because it takes more time than you can get paid for. It becomes a labor of love, a challenge, a learning experience, and a source of satisfaction. It appears to have most of the bits and pieces and I don't see any broken gear teeth. If you take the time to listen to one of these old machines, they can tell you a lot about their past, how they were made, were they abused, ridden hard and put away wet, or well cared for. See if you can tell something about how much it is worn.
    If you are still enthused after this, then it's a keeper! If not, maybe you can find a buyer that will bring it back to life, but don't scrap it.
    I wish you luck and I will be watching......

    Wes Loomer

  3. #3
    cretedog is offline Cast Iron
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    Kinfolk-

    Seneca Falls Star Lathe

    Like Weston said, it does take plenty of time and inclination, and is very rewarding in the end.

  4. #4
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Well my question really is what can this lathe not do that one of the same size can do from the 1950s. I like redoing old tools but I do not have room for one that is only to look at.

  5. #5
    peter is offline Titanium
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    To be practical there is a world of difference in use between a lathe like this Seneca and say SouthBend big 10 with motor under. For the same floor space you can do your work in perhaps 10% the time. Both faster and more accurate. Cut threads is a world of easier (assuming your seneca can even handle that). The SB has many many accessories and what you did not get with initial purchase can be found or adapted from other machines. Steady rest, follower rest, taper attachment, collets, fancy tool holders and grinders, etc,etc... Having said that South Bend is not even any great shakes machine. I got one, its fine, for what it is and that Seneca is not even from same planet. That is just my 2C and another 2.98 will get you coffee at StarBucks.

    Now the dollars. A nice South bend could run 1000 to 2000 while what you have there might sell for 2-500. You dont say are you on a tight budget. Any lathe is a world better than none. I am no expert on the dollars, but I think I am in the ball park. You could start out with this and move up at some convenient time later.

    And a bit of irony, the collectors want original foot power which multiplies the difference between my example SB and a treadle Seneca by an additional factor 10 in favor of the SB for practical runner.

    Edit. My guess from pic, the Seneca will not cut threads.

  6. #6
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Thanks that does help. For me money is tight. And the goal is to get a usable lathe for the best price. I like what you said any lathe is a world better than none that my thought So any way it sounds like if I get this lath fixed up as a winter project I could do some useful work with it until I come across a more modern one.

  7. #7
    Joe in NH is offline Titanium
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    Quote Originally Posted by peter View Post
    To be practical there is a world of difference in use between a lathe like this Seneca and say SouthBend big 10 with motor under.
    Edit. My guess from pic, the Seneca will not cut threads.
    Peter is generally correct but the lathe will cut threads. I don't think it has a tread dial, and probably cuts threads by locking onto the leadscrew - and then leaving it locked and 'backing down' the lathe to bring it to the start for the next cut. This is the way threads were cut in the 19th century - and this a 19th century lathe.

    It depends on what you want. If you restore gas engines and face off brake disks for your car and want to get to the result quicker, then you buy the SB Heavy 10. If you want to do one of this and one of that and have plenty of time and some tolerence for innacuracy - but meanwhile like to tinker and restore old machinery of ALL kinds, then the Seneca is the ride for you.

    I can't say that one is better than the other. I'm currently into a Barnes No. 5 as my sole machining lathe. It's not the most accurate lathe in the world but it does what I need. And I might opine that the Seneca Falls is a bit "more" of a lathe than the Barnes machine. As the SB is more than the Seneca.

    And I do have that circa 1860s Shepard, Lathe & Co. lathe which is pretty accurate, but no thread dial, no cross dial, no compound, and I get a limitation on how heavy a cut I can take because the only thing that holds the carriage to the ways is the weight hanging below the shears - a weight that I have heard and felt the carriage lift on a heavy cut. But if one can keep the carriage down on the shears, it is VERY accurate.

    It's all in what you want - or what you can afford.

    My First Lathe was a Sears Roebuck Dunlap I paid $25 for at the flea market (this in 1978) Now gone because I have stepped up.

    And that may happen to you too.

    Joe K

  8. #8
    Joe Michaels is online now Titanium
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    Re: "Will an antique lathe this size work for a home shop ?" ... This is a "wide open" question. Whether the lathe works for your shop of not depends upon what type of jobs you want to do on it. Not knowing the condition of the lathe, it is impossible to make some kind of educated answer. If the lathe is intact, and everything on it works (or can be made to work correctly), the answer is a qualified "yes".

    If you wanted to build parts for modern day robots or do fine gunsmithing, the lathe may be too loose, and not having collets makes work on smaller diameter (like 1/8" diameter to maybe 1/2") difficult. If you want to make basic machine shop projects or make an occasional bushing or turn down a shaft, the lathe is probably fine. Bear in mind the BIG advantage to a "screw cutting lathe" is just that: it is designed and built to cut threads without needing taps or dies, or on work where you could not use a tap or die. Sooner or later, you will probably want to cut screw threads on the lathe. You might need to make an arbor for something like a grinding wheel, or perhaps cut internal threads on some larger locking nut. Being able to cut screw threads is a major advantage. Old lathes cut screw threads just fine without benefit of quick change gears or thread chasing dials. As long as the half nuts work and you have change gears, you can cut screw threads. Just a bit slower than on a lathe with a chasing dial and quick change gears.

    I'd suggest you look at the lathe as a learning experience. If you work on it to put into shape for regular lathe jobs, you will have learned about checking clearances in split bronze bearings, shimming to set the bearing clearance, adjusting gibs, and lots more. These are basic shop skills that are "building blocks" to a lot of other jobs you will encounter as you get into machine shop work. The Seneca Falls lathe is as simple as it gets, a classic little lathe. Great to learn about lathes, not just how to operate them. A lathe of this type is (forgive me for saying this), as "forgiving a machine as there is". A flat belt driven lathe will often slip the flat belt should you take too heavy a cut or "crash" the carriage into a chuck or faceplate while the lathe is running. IMO, this little Seneca Falls lathe is a great teacher and great first lathe if you are looking to learn from "square one", and not expecting a toolroom grade lathe.

    With some patience and care, you could probably build model steam engines or some shop tooling on that lathe. Remember: in the nineteenth century, when that lathe was in production, people did lots of fine work on that lathe. It was all they had, and they were glad to get a lathe with screw cutting capabilty, and all the basic features generations of us have taken to be "standard" on lathes. I myself can attest to the fact that a worn lathe with a "swaybacked" bed can turn out fine work and hold some tight tolerances in the right hands. What one person turns up their nose at and calls "junk", an old time machinist will work with and get the jobs out. Working in jobbing machine shops years ago, I almost never saw a lathe that did NOT have a worn bed, loose cross feed nut so there was close to 0.100" backlash, and on it went. We started with lathes that were old when we got to them in HS, and in the shops of 45 + years ago, we worked with worn machine tools as a matter of course. If you use your head, eyes, and think the jobs through, an old worn lathe can do some amazing things. If you are up for learning and getting more of the "whoie picture" than simply learning to do basic lathe operations, this little Seneca Falls Lathe may be a good teacher.
    paul39 and IBLSKeith like this.

  9. #9
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Thanks very much for all of the thoughtful and detailed answers. It sounds like this will be a good starter lathe for me to start learning about lathes with. And will be able to do some useful work around the shop. And then I can take my time and watch for a really good deal on a more modern lathe.

  10. #10
    Joe in NH is offline Titanium
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    And thus the slide into complete machine immobility begins. First it will be a neighbor "just cleaning out." Then a deal at a desired lathe at a local machine tool company. Then a death of an elderly but technically oriented remote cousin.

    And pretty soon you'll be like all the rest of us. Optimal stacking density.

    And then the planer will show up...

    Joe
    lazz likes this.

  11. #11
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Haha already well on my way before this lathe

  12. #12
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Well starting to think I will not have the time to get this lath fixed up and working over the winter. What price range would it go for with and without the legs?

  13. #13
    Jim Christie is online now Stainless
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    I think it would be sort of sad to see the lathe loose its legs at this stage unless there was an other Seneca Falls the same but in better condition that was missing its legs since those look to me to be the type that was used for the foot treadle drive.
    Sorry I can’t offer to buy it or wouldn’t know the value .
    Sadly but good for you , to the right buyer you will probably get as much or more for the legs as you would get for the complete machine .
    Regards,
    Jim

  14. #14
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    I agree I hope the legs stay with it as it does feel wrong to seperate them.

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    MarkW is offline Aluminum
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    Here's my 2 cents-

    If you are just starting out, don't really have any particular plane or direction, and money is tight, then I'd say keep this one, clean it up and maybe give it a can of black or green spray paint, and try making stuff with it. you'll be able to do a surprising amount with this lathe as long as you do not focus on what it cannot do. But you will definitely be able to chuck stuff up and turn it down, or drill holes. Also, you can make a tool rest from metal or wood and use this as a wood turning lathe as well. If you meditate on it, you will be able to make an awful lot of stuff on this machine. So I am basically parrotting what has been mentioned earlier, and another advantage of this particular machine is that it can be easily moved around by two people.

    Good luck!

  16. #16
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Hmm would be nice to keep it. Will have to see how it goes. Need to figure out the drive system to get it at the right speed. Asumming this one is turning it to fast.

  17. #17
    Joe in NH is offline Titanium
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    I'm with MarkW. Don't be too hasty. Meanwhile you have time to learn, time to look around, and time to pick out your next step up.

    And one CAN sell a lathe too quickly. About 1995 I sold my Flather No. 715 to a buyer in Manchester, NH. Sold it at a loss since I had bought it from a machine tool dealer and paid "retail used price" rather than scrap. But had a buyer in hand and decided to let it go not knowing what the future will bring.

    "Gee, Joe," my wife says. "What are you going to do for a lathe?"

    "I'll find something, " I said.

    I've found several actually - but only the Barnes Treadle is currently functional. Meanwhile the others are sitting and all that line-shafting is waiting for my return and the time to set it up.

    Don't lose the capability before you're ready to.

    Joe in NH

  18. #18
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    Wonder how much time and money it will take to get this one going?

  19. #19
    Rob F. is offline Stainless
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    What needs to be done other than clean & lube everything and mount the motor with a new belt?
    Rob

  20. #20
    Sulla123 is offline Plastic
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    No idea never checked out or redone a lathe before. But one thing I know that needs to be done is build a mount for the motor. It mounted to somethng that is gone in the last. Looks like a piece of shelving. Hmm I think there is some of that shelving at the scrap yard. But I need to make the drive as compact as possible. Also some one mentioned that they thought the motor setup would spin it to fast the way is.

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