Industrial lathes of the late 18th/early 19th century
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    Default Industrial lathes of the late 18th/early 19th century

    In this thread I would like to focus on lathes used for industrial metal turning in the late 18th to early 19th century.

    Georgian metal-turning lathes, for want of a better term.

    Another description might be prehistoric, as little seems to have been recorded about the ordinary industrial lathes of that period.

    Gentlemen's lathe, such as those made by Holtzapffel, are well documented. We also know quite a lot about early precision lathes, such as those produced by Maudslay and Vaucanson, and about the great leap forward in lathe design brought about by the likes of Richard Roberts, Joseph Clements, and James Fox c.1820.

    Iíll be posting pictures of early lathes of unknown date, and an energetic discussion will ensue, bringing all sorts of vital information out of the closet. Hmmm.

    For some of these lathes I'll claim that they may date from the late 1700s or very early 1800s, with no supporting evidence, and little more than a feeling that the detail design and crudeness of the castings is consistent with that era.

    Some will look at the photos and say 'No way that those lathes are from that era'. My response will be to accept that I donít know, and to ask the question: What, then, did ordinary industrial lathes look like at that time?

    For there must have been many, and they certainly weren't made of wood, so where have they all gone? The period of interest is the Industrial Revolution, when there was an explosion in demand for turned metal components. Large quantities of small-medium sized components were needed (for cotton spinning machinery, for example) from the 1770s onward. Large turned iron components were needed for waterwheels, lineshafts, steam engines, etc. Where are the lathes used to turn these items, if not some of those to appear in the following photos?

    The lathes to be featured will have headstocks and tailstocks and tool rests made from iron and steel, and will often have wooden beds. They would serve either for wood or metal turning.

    I will not be focusing on triangular bed lathes, as they have been well-covered elsewhere (e.g. thread link below) and they mostly appear to have a narrow field of application (Maudslay and gentlemen turners).

    http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb...e-ebay-204315/

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    jd-old-lathes01.jpg jd-old-lathes02.jpg

    We’ll start with this tailstock. On a lathe currently appearing on eBay, photos courtesy of the owner:-

    Antique Lathe | eBay

    My feeling is that iron tailstocks don't come much older than this.

    Here’s a probable contemporary, residing in Massachusetts (see post #5 for tailstock).

    http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb...9/#post2072623

    I suspect that these tailstocks, headstocks and tool rests were treasured possessions, and that some were later used on more modern beds. A turner might perhaps take them with him when he moved on, perhaps to another country.

    I’ve sometimes seen such lathes referred to as 'possibly blacksmith-built'. I’m not so sure. Every small town in the UK its foundries, but how many shops could accurately bore the holes and produce the screws and spindles, c.1800?

    jd-old-lathes03.jpg

    This illustration above is very badly drawn, but it does show the salient features of the old tailstocks, with the thin casting, the offset screw and the distinctive method of locking the spindle. The book is The Cabinet Cyclopedia, dated 1833, but there is no suggestion that it represents the state of the art at that time!
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 02:28 AM.

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    jd-old-lathes04.jpg jd-old-lathes06.jpg jd-old-lathes05.jpg

    This lathe is said to have been used by George Stephenson in 1812 - 1818. Displayed at Beamish Open Air Museum. More photos here:-

    http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb...-lathe-260270/
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 05:28 AM.

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    I’m going to digress - and regress - slightly.

    jd-old-lathes07.jpg dscn0580a.jpg

    This wooden lathe is at Combe Mill, Oxfordshire. The headstock and tailstock are secured by wedges beneath the bed. OK for wood turning, but not for metal.

    A point of interest (to me) is something that is probably just a whimsical touch, but may prove to be useful for dating purposes. The enlargement shows the head of the tailstock screw. It’s a 14-faced shape, and I’ve noticed the same form on various other very old lathes. In fact the screw heads on my triangular bar lathe are the same shape. The Combe Mill lathe has the same shaped head on the tool rest.

    jd-bicton1.jpg
    Wheelwright’s lathe at Bicton Gardens, Devon. Thought to be c.1820. Slender bed, like the Combe Mill engine, but the tailstock is now screwed down, not wedged. It also has the 14*-faced head on the tailstock screw.

    14 surfaces including the underside of the screw's 'head'. 15 if you include the surface of the hole!
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 05:28 AM. Reason: 14-faced was 12-faced!

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    jd-cotehele02.jpg jd-cotehele01.jpg

    Another wheelwright’s lathe, this time at Cotehele, Cornwall.

    Again, the tailstock screw, and the headstock spindle thrust screw, have 14-faceted heads. The maker was confident enough to thread the hole in the tailstock for the spindle (as opposed to having a separate screw, as in post #2). The tailstock spindle screw is secured by a locknut with a handle.

    lathe005a.jpg
    It might be thought that the tailstock is an advance on the ‘box frame’ type in post #2. And indeed it might, but a somewhat similar shape (and the 14-faced screw head) can be seen in this part of Joseph Bramah’s 'Nibbling machine'. I think the machine dates from the time Maudslay was employed by Bramah, in the 1790s. Extract of photo taken from Joseph Bramah, A Century of Invention 1749 - 1851 by Ian McNeil.
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 05:27 AM.

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    jd-old-lathe02.jpg jd-old-lathe04.jpg jd-old-lathe01.jpg jd-old-lathe03.jpg

    I'm going off piste again, because this was probably a gentleman's lathe rather than an industrial one. The last gentleman was Graham Webb, and he kindly sent me high resolution photos.

    It looks nicely made, with careful detailing. Note the scalloping of the nuts. Those 14-faced screw heads again. Tailstock spindle similar to the Cotehele lathe. Rather a flimsy-looking iron bed, which for some reason is cranked at the headstock location.

    Note that the screwed tailstock spindle was perfectly adequate for hand turning. It would not serve for 'slide' lathes, because the axis of the centre would inevitably move as the spindle rotated.
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 02:25 AM. Reason: Added note about tailstock spindle

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    Two lathes at Wortley Top Forge, Sheffield.

    jd-wortley01.jpg
    One has a fairly slender bed, so might not have been intended for metal cutting? Angle iron shears fitted to the inside corners of the ways. The basic shape of the iron tailstock is reminiscent of the wooden one at Combe Mill.

    jd-wortley02.jpg
    This one has a stouter bed. Split brasses in the headstock, including a rear bearing with a bolt on thrust screw (as distinct from having a single journal bearing at the chuck end and a thrust pivot at the other end). The mounting for the pulley on the spindle appears to be octagonal. Some were square.

    The tailstock barrel is of the 'separate screw' type. Although this arrangement goes back a long time, it is of course possible that the design was still being produced over a period of many decades.
    Last edited by Asquith; 08-20-2013 at 05:27 AM.

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    Pressing on regardlessÖ..

    I realise Iím flipping about all over the place here, but you get what you pay for. Iím supposed be focusing on industrial metal cutting lathes from 1800 +/- 20, but Iím going back to wood lathes again, as they have much in common with early metal-cutting lathes.

    I came across Hand Or Simple Turning: Principles and Practice by John Jacob Holtzapffel, and specifically Fig. 64:-

    Hand Or Simple Turning: Principles and Practice - John Jacob Holtzapffel - Google Books

    This shows 'a lathe head in most general use in this country at the commencement of this [19th] century'. Note once again the many-faced screw head. I wonder if these screws were bought-in items? If so, there must have been standard taps sold to go with them.

    Also note the metal plate for the front bearing, and the fairly typical squared shaft. For comparison, I went back to the Combe Mill lathe photo, and wished Iíd looked closer at the time. This has a bolted on plate, but itís not a simple plate with a hole, but presumably has split brasses and no less than four screws for the bearing assembly. ?

    jd-combe-1.jpg

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    Asquith,
    In this case I can see your link to the Holtzapfel book on Google Books but if there are some people who cant there is an 1850 edition of it on archive.org as well as some other books by him that at first glance look quite interesting .
    Here is the link .
    Internet Archive Search: creator:"Holtzapffel, Charles"

    Regards,
    Jim

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    Great thread! The 1st one that came to mind is D. de Thura's in Copenhagen, This engraving dates from the mid 18th century and shows his workshop..... he was a Naval Architect and turner to the Queen..... he built that fancy lathe in the bombay cabinet at Rosenborg Castle. He may have done it on this lathe for all we know.....



    I'll have to dig around more... I know I have pictures of a wonderful lathe with wood bed at Colonial Williamsburg

    Again Thanks for doing this thread.... it had to take a bunch of time to get all the info together for us.

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    Thanks for your input, Jim and Rivett.

    jd-old-lathes08.jpg
    Hereís another very early example of an iron tailstock. Seen at the Great Dorset Steam Fair a few years ago.

    Thinking about the arrangement of the barrel and the screw, itís quite a neat way of providing adjustment without the barrel turning.

    In the days before Morse-type tapered centres, the centre would often be located by a square hole. The axis of the centre is likely to be eccentric to some degree, and hence it would be displaced if the barrel turned when tightening. However, I havenít yet figured out why this would matter when hand turning (as opposed to using a guided tool).

    Incidentally, note the wooden vice at the end of the bed in the photo. Rivettís engraving has an iron one there.

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    I seem to ploughing a barren field, so I'll close with a few more examples from museums.

    jd-chard01.jpg
    Chard, Somerset

    jd-bl01.jpg
    Bishop's Lydeard Mill, Somerset

    jd-tiverton01.jpg
    Tiverton Museum, Devon

    jd-oxford01.jpg
    Wheatley Windmill, Oxfordshire

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    NO NO... the field is not barren, well maybe the field in the USA where many of the readers reside is a bit barren. I wonder how many of our early lathes were imported from the mother country? and if any survive? I know with a lot of things made of wood just didn't survive, maybe the early American engineers (machinists, etc) just used them up and got rid on them when more modern machines came into the shop? We certainly don't have as many early 19th century sites as you do and at most of there is damn little original anything left of them. Or maybe these machines are still in use somewhere deep in the mountains of West Virginia making parts for stills? ;^)

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    Asquith,

    Please continue.

    The American Precision Museum is the only place where I've seen an "early" industrial lathe, but there must have been plenty of them. "Late 18th to early 19th century" includes lots of gun-making and the early railroad days.

    Didn't somebody post photos of a large early lathe displayed outdoors in an open shed, somewhere in the Southern states ?

    Reading your posts, I'm struck by the superiority of British place names. I can't think of anything in the USA that rolls off the tongue quite as well as "Wortly Top Forge", Mouse Hole Forge" [Which I understand is pronounced something like "M'uzzle"] and now "Wheatley Windmill.

    Locally, in that era, we had Batsto, Oxford Furnace, Arden Furnace, and, perhaps a bit later than the era of focus, Long Pond Iron Works, NONE of whose lathes survive. (In the case of Batsto, the entire furnace stack was "robbed" of its stone.)

    About the only noteworthy name in these parts is "Miller's Mill" in southern New Jersey, which struck me a case of a man who was in the correct trade.

    Please don't give up on us because we are living in a nation that discards, rather than reveres, its historical industrial fabric. (And, how about the Forum's Continental members? And the former Pacific colonies of Australia & New Zealand ? Have you none to add to Asquith's list?)

    John Ruth
    Thinking about the impact of the scrap metal "drives" of TWO World Wars upon historical machinery.

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    Check-out; "New England Model Engineering Society"(Housed in "The Waltham Watch Factory"),, New England Wireless and Steam Museum,, Slater's Mill,, Mystic Seaport... Bob Phillips

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    Asquith....... I feel you might be on to something about dateing by the faceted tailstock screw.This is a simple and traditional way for a blacksmith to make a decorative finial on the end of a bar ( think of andirons ).
    The form is made by "knocking the corners off" of a cube of iron. If these lathes were made in small shops with limited tooling,this would be an efficient way to create a larger mass on the end of the bar without having access to to large round swages or the man power to hammer on them. The flat faces also would make it much easier in a small shop to punch the crossing hole for the handle.

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    Asquith, Thanks for such an interesting thread, I've been trying to get hold of a friend who stored a similar lathe here last year. It had the "separate screw" tailstock as well as various ornate cast features I would have liked to share here- will get some pictures. Do you think lathes of that era could have been supplied for the end user to supply timber? From memory the bed was around 18', made up of 2 8"x4" with metal let into the top innermost corner for tailstock and rest. Drive was via 4x3" cone pulley,countershaft was there.
    Sad to see the E-bay lathe escaped without a bid, I hope it makes it.
    Richard.

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    Good to see some discussion taking off. There is a tendency of museums here to quietly remove old machine tools from display, presumably due to perceived lack of interest. It would have been hard to argue that they were wrong if this topic had died an early death!

    We are very lucky in the UK to have so many early lathes on display. I must admit that I took snaps of these old wooden lathes without perceiving much of interest or historical value, but now I see the error of my ways.

    Regarding a point made by John, I did see at least two lathes in museums in New Zealand which had the typical iron tailstock and tool rest which I speculate had its origins at the turn of the 18th/19th centuries. These components might well have been old when imported, or they might have been later domestic copies. I think I have photos, somewhere.

    It would not surprise me at all to find that some of these iron components were shipped to North America c.1800. They were, after all, very portable. I suspect that 'Humphrey Machine' might have such an import. This was mentioned in post #2, and here's his photo:-

    http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb...t-img_2388.jpg

    I have only been able to speculate about the age of these things, without any evidence. What I really hope to find is an illustrated dated advertisement showing early iron lathes. They must surely exist. Rivett has provided us with examples of early hand tool adverts, e.g. from P Stubs.

    Regarding John's mention of interesting place names, there’s a book called The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, which takes genuine place names in the British Isles and assigns definitions to them. Example: Cotterstock: A piece of wood used to stir paint and thereafter stored uselessly in a shed in perpetuity.

    Some other examples here:-

    Extracts from the Meaning of Liff

    I’m particularly interested in Dociron’s comments on the forged bolt heads. I’ve been looking at the ones on my old lathe, and the crossing holes are certainly bell mouthed and somewhat oval, consistent with punching. There is also a very shallow centre in the end of the head associated with turning in a lathe.

    Then it becomes more puzzling. The quality of the threads contrasts with the relative crudeness of the forged heads. The pitch of the threads on the various screws is very consistent (0.1"), but the diameters are somewhat variable. I’ll take some photos, as there are features of the threads which might give a clue to someone about the method of production.

    I would also like to find an early advert from a supplier of 'screw bolts' and taps and dies.

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    This is an absolutely superior thread. There's a wonderful description of a lathe from this period in "Early Engineering Reminiscences." Got to get to work! Been hoping someone would post a thread like this!

    Charles Morrill, Charlottesville, VA

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    It would not surprise me at all to find that some of these iron components were shipped to North America c.1800. They were, after all, very portable. I suspect that 'Humphrey Machine' might have such an import. This was mentioned in post #2, and here's his photo:-
    This is highly unlikely. Humphrey machine is very typical of local made machinery. Nothing is imposable, but highly unlikely IMHO.

    As a separate comment (separate from fact that Humphrey machine is local manufacture) England had a reputation for protection of its iron working machinery. People had to sneak over to get a look, or immigrate with the secrets. Export of any machinery would be an exception to the accepted rule. I kinda though there was an outright ban on much of that. Right or wrong on this, does not change the fact that these early machines (such as Humphrey) were of local origin. In fact ideas moved very fast and faster as time moved on. if you see something truely out of place on 1820's machine it would likely a later upgrade. This is true of at least one museum example early lathe in England.

    The USA was definitely behind England in early days. Our 1820-30 machine looks like thier 1780-1810 machine. More or less, that is my impression from museum photos and books. But, we still still made the whole machine. Kinda like saying alians helped the Egyptian build the pyramids. No, those primitives really did do that.


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