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Cleaning Up A 1920 15" South Bend Lathe (WIP)


Mar 29, 2023
I recently posted an inquiry into what color to paint this old lathe as I'm cleaning it up. I thought I would make this thread to document my progress and share with you all.


I purchased this lathe about 1 year ago from a gentleman who worked doing something involving making parts for land speed record cars. Apparently before that, it had been in the LA County schools, and they believe a navy yard in San Diego before that. The man I purchased it from had already gone through the trouble of crating everything up and putting everything on casters so moving it was a little easier! From there, it moved into the home shop and sat until about a month ago where I finally took the time (and money) to get everything I needed to get her running and start making chips. There are/were a number of issues with this lathe, some I have fixed, but I will list all of them here:

Cracked gear cover
Tail stock had a stuck JT3/MT3
power feed not engaging
Missing reverse gear
back gear completely frozen up
half nut would not engage/would not move the carriage
Rust on bare metal surfaces
worn down bearing on the countershaft
lack of electrical box/cover for the motor wiring
stuck on 3 jaw chuck
general grittiness, dirty, roughness. a LOT of dirt and grime.

First thing's first was getting it all set up to make sure it worked. This took a bit of time, getting that big overhead arm into place was very annoying and difficult especially as the shop crane/engine hoist I had couldn't get a great angle. Wired up the motor, it worked fine but the belt that came with it ended up being too short. I purchased a belt from albino industries. The biggest issue I needed to solve at this point was getting the taper out of the tailstock and boy that took over a week. I tried literally everything (hammering, heat, hydrojacking, 12 ton press, kroil, combinations of everything) but eventually what worked was drilling out the center (after getting my belt from albino) and then that was able to finally relieve enough internal tension so I could drive it out from the rear with a piece of half inch bar and a big hammer. Turns out it was a JT3 to MT2 taper with a MT2 to MT3 sleeve that was made of some very soft steel. This rusted around the big end of the taper and caused it to stick, BAD.


With that out, I went ahead and completed my first ever lathe project! A scriber! Following blondihacks youtube series made this a great first project. Also figured out that the clutch disc was included with the parts I got with the lathe so I reached under the apron and screwed that on. Then I made my second part, a tool to help my dad disassemble his Beretta APX. At this point I had been happy with the lathe's performance and felt it was time to fix all the niggling issues that I assumed were due to dirt, grit, wear, etc. Something in my brain needed to dissasemble, inspect, clean, and repair if necessary basically every part of the machine.


The biggest thing I wanted to fix at first was the compound. It was giving me a lot of issues when adjusting the angle as well as just not being smooth to operate. So I disassembled that. Then I decided, since I was already here I may as well go ahead and take apart the cross slide. Then I decided since I was already here, I may as well figure out why the halfnuts weren't engaging; I really needed to dissassemble the apron. So with that, I removed the lead screw, the bearings to the lead screw and the banjo and then carefully removed the apron. Also at this point I took off the saddle and the rack for later cleaning. With the apron off it was apparent just how filthy this machine had been allowed to become over the years.


I started soaking everything in super clean and getting rid of all the grease and grime and dirt and chips that have collected up over the years. I went through and had to scrape and scrub every part basically as the layer of filth that had built up warranted that level of cleaning. I figured since I already have the whole thing apart I may as well paint it. So after cleaning up all the parts, which took about 2 or 3 days, I went ahead and stripped all the old paint, masked off certain areas, and then went to painting.


Using a couple of old catalogs I decided what parts would be painted and what parts would be left bare/in the white. I put 2 layers of paint on most of the parts, and 1 on the backside of the apron as well as some small parts that didn't require a second coat. Below is where I am at after the paint has finally dried, i scraped off the excess paint where I didn't want it, and polished everything back up to a decent grit.


The next thing I am going to work on is actually painting the bed so that I can start puttiong assemblies back on the lathe so that they take up less space around the shop. My plan right now is Bed -> Tail Stock -> Carriage -> Headstock -> Motor & Countershaft assembly. While the paint was drying I also took apart the headstock and good thing I did as there were TONS of chips and filth all under the headstock, to a degree to where I started to believe this lathe was a victim of compressed air. While there I unstuck the back gears. They were frozen up it looks like intentionally and the screws that held in the bushings to the eccentric shaft had their heads removed. I drilled them out but still can not get the bushings to come out. I need to drill oversize further I believe and then tap for a large screw size. I really need to get the back gears out because it's really annoying me.


Here is one half of the lathe after scraping for about an hour. It really goes quite fast and is a lot less messy than paint stripping I think.

I will keep updating this thread as I go along. Thank you for reading if you've made it this far.
what a beauty! Rare to see a complete overhead drive too. I have a wide 9 of a similar vintage (1928?) and went through all of it fixing up various little bits'n'pieces. All of the felts had solidified decades ago, so it was well worth doing just from that perspective. Now it happily drips oil all over the place :)