The Cranky Sysadmin A world of technology, fun, and ignorant rants.

July 26, 2014

I Bought an Old Metal Lathe. Woohoo!

Filed under: machinist — Cranky Sysadmin @ 3:29 pm

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked mechanical things as well as electronics. My dream was to go into college for some kind of Robotics Engineering course, but that didn’t happen. Going into adulthood, I chose to focus on electronics and then computers. Now that I’m older I’d like to finally acquire the skill of hobbyist machinist. The problem with this is that I have no tools for a machinist career. Well, now I do. I bought an “Old Iron” South Bend 9″ Model C lathe. If you’re interested in the story and pictures, read on.

For the past couple of years I’ve been looking into the Chinese mini-lathes. I’ve mostly been looking at the 7×12 and 7×14 lathes. If you’re interested in these lathes, a couple of good sites for them are and The main complaint about the 7x series of lathes is that they are not terribly rigid and not terribly powerful. Some folks do advocate for mini-lathes for the hobbyist because they are new and probably in tolerances good enough for the hobbyist. The problem with old iron is that you are probably always buying some problems. My limited recent experience doesn’t contradict that statement, but the problems I’ve found are not terrible.

I spent some time researching older lathes and watching videos (tubalcain has a great series of machinist videos). I decided that I’d look for a South Bend 9″ lathe. It’s about the biggest lathe that I can comfortably get into my cellar, and the prices are not terrible. Googling around, it’s easy to find information on buying old iron. A couple of tubalcain’s videos discuss the topic as well.

My birthday is coming up, and as a happy coincidence, I found a nice looking South Bend lathe on craigslist for a reasonable price, including a lot of basic tooling. After a discussion with the wife, I went to inspect the lathe. So far, I’m satisfied with it. It has a little wear on the bed. Some of the gibs need adjustment, and the whole thing needs to be cleaned and lubricated as it sat in a wood shop for about ten years. Below is a picture of the lathe broken down in the back of my car for transport.

IMG_0204There is a great document at Blue Chip Machine Shop describing how to break down the lathe for transport. The tools I actually used were a 9/16th socket (sparkplug type in my case) with a 3″ extender, a 13/16th socket, an adjustable wrench, a big slot screwdriver, and a thin 9/16th crescent wrench. Do you *really* need this crescent wrench? Oh, yes you do. There are two bolts holding the headstock to the bed, and one of them looks like this:

IMG_0209Yeah, I couldn’t get at it with an adjustable wrench. You might also bring a camera to record where things go, some rags, a 2-wheeler, and maybe a strapping friend.

Once I got it home and into the basement, I took some pictures of the tooling. Judging by the serial number, the lathe was made between 1950 and 1955. Below are a couple of pictures of the tailstock and the carriage assembly.


top view


Bottom view. The half nut is fine. It’s just got gunk on it from transport.

Below is the switch, which was cut off. I’ll have to rewire it. It’s in pretty good shape though.

IMG_0219The headstock:

Sorry for the fuzzy image.

Sorry for the fuzzy image.

A live center and two dead centers. The big one doesn’t fit in the tailstock.


Some collets and the doodad which holds the collets in place in the headstock. There is also a tap holder which looks a lot like a collet.


A chuck, the 3/4 jaw chuck key and some wrenches. The chuck key for the pictured chuck seems to be missing.


The tool post, tooling, and the threading indicator, along with another 3/4 jaw chuck key:

IMG_0217God created the dogs… the dogs (to misquote the late Senator Byrd).


And some doodads that I haven’t identified yet. If you know what any of these are, please feel free to leave a comment.


The fellow who sold the lathe to me told me he didn’t know any of the history. He did tell me that he bought it ten years ago and didn’t use it and that it sat at a local used tool dealer for a lot of years, so really he did have some useful history. Also, the serial number places its manufacture between 1950 and 1955, so it’s about 60 years old.

My next steps are to build a bench for it, rewire the motor and switch, clean the whole thing as best as I can without losing track of parts, assemble it, lubricate it, and give it a test run. Soon, I’ll be making doodads and three handled trundlers day and night. Woohoo!

1 Comment »

  1. I’m so very jealous! Have fun with the lathe.

    Comment by Antti — February 17, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

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