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I Forge Iron

Weighing the merits of a lathe in the shop


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One of the machine shops where I work, specifically the one in the building I work in, has half of a monstrous old LeBlond lathe. The bed is easily 12 feet and, I'm led to believe, is only half of the machine - the rest is in another building. The chuck that's in it is easily four feet in diameter and I'd guess the swing is probably two-and-a-half feet, or so. I'm fairly sure you could turn railroad wheelsets on it. 

The machine shop in a different building has some of the largest machines I've ever seen. Though they were not intended for such, I could easily imagine them building the parts and pieces for Sherman tanks or artillery pieces. Unfortunately, most of it is never used. The plant employs only a few full-time machinists, and only a couple know how to operate equipment that old. 

Back on topic: I'd love to have a good lathe to play with. I think you'll spend some time dreaming up things to do with your new capabilities and capacity, and before long you'll wonder how you ever made it without (or with a smaller version).

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Since I started this thread quite a while back,  I'll share what I wound up with.  I started out with an 18" Greaves & Klussman that was a project lathe.  It had no countershaft, no transmission and was quite worn.  I worked on it for a while and then came across a 20" leBlond.  It was turn-key, but it was a gap bed which had real limitations since 99% of my work would be up close to the chuck.  It was also far more lathe than I needed.  Ultimately an 18" ATW lathe appeared at my local salvage yard.  It was all disassembled, but I was able to trade my Greaves & Klussman for it.  It has a QC gearbox, a countershaft motor mount, double back gears and much less wear.  I have it mostly assembled and all parts appear to be present.  

It's taken a while to wind up with the right lathe.  I did save a good lathe from a sad fate, though I resigned another one to the same.  The big LeBlond ways will become a mighty workbench.  It took some patience until the right one came along, but all three were nearly free.  

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