Category: Machining

Lathe tailstock automation #oldschoolmachinist

Posted by on January 23, 2015

When having to drill repetitive holes in parts as second operations on an engine lathe, having a means to automate the tailstock could prove valuable.

Not all lathes come with the option of a hydraulic tailstock and some only have limited action.

The following are two basic ideas that can be implemented on virtually any lathe and very quickly as well!


First method:

Attach a suitable pneumatic cylinder to the bed using a similar clamping method as used on the tailstock itself. Have it push the lightly clamped (but free sliding) tailstock. A restrictor to control the feed-rate is mandatory. This method requires no modification to the lathe, if you need it to also retract through pneumatic action you can use a bracket or clamp on the tailstock. Otherwise you can push it back by hand as usual. Using a second restrictor on the return valve could help lengthen the life of the cylinder, so you don’t constantly ram it to fully closed all the time.

Second method:

With a long arm and bracket mounted on the toolpost, one can have the tailstock move, when the auto-feed is engaged on the carriage. This method has several limitations but it only requires light fabrication on mild-steel or aluminum for the “pushing arm”. While you can adjust the feed, it won’t be as flexible as the pneumatic cylinder, and you’ll have travel limitations in some cases.

Of course, the obvious alternative is to have the tailstock mounted in front of the carriage, and have the carriage push the lightly clamped (but still free sliding) tailstock.


Whichever method you choose, be careful and keep in mind possible crashes or tool ruptures. These are NON-CNC methods, for any type of electrical control you could, in theory, easily mount a stepper motor to the quill feed on the tailstock, but that itself is a modification of the lathe and beyond the scope of these two simple methods.

As for peck-drilling, the second method won’t allow it, this is why I’m starting to work on a clamp system for a pneumatic cylinder, peck-drilling with a pneumatic setup is relatively easy (although it may be expensive for some). The whole idea however is not to modify the tailstock in any way at all.



Quick and easy tailstock alignment procedure (lathe)

Posted by on January 8, 2015

To quickly align your tailstock:

  1. Face and center-drill some scrap steel, round 1/2″ about 5 inches long.
  2. Insert a dead center on the tailstock.
  3. Mount your dial indicator so it touches a flat section of the dead center, right after the 60°, make sure you are on a flat by moving the tailstock quill back and forth, your indicator dial shouldn’t deviate.
  4. Once you’ve setup the indicator, you can now push the dead center onto the center you drilled before. If your tailstock is misaligned your indicator will show a slight deflection as everything slightly flexes toward center.
  5. At this point, you can go back and forth adjusting the tailstock setscrews until pushing the dead center won’t yield a deflection on the indicator dial.

You can easily get your tailstock centered within a thou or less using this method in under 5 minutes. Depending on whether you use a test indicator or a dial indicator, you can improve the alignment furthermore based on the available accuracy and resolution of your indicator.

Just keep in mind a test cut is always a good way to know for sure if you’re in dead center. Of course this requires the use of a known good micrometer and lots of time and patience. The alternative is to use a calibrated rod and indicate throughout the X travel for deviation, but the rod has to be held within centers.

Step 1 is very important, the part has to be center drilled on the spot every time for a good reference. You can use the same part twice (working on either side) afterwards you’ll have to face the center marks off or start from another scrap piece.

Once you are happy with the alignment:

Don’t forget to lock the setscrews against each other. Do this while indicating to make absolutely sure you aren’t pushing the tailstock to either side.

If after the alignment you still have issues, chances are you need to look into shimming your tailstock as wear has brought it’s height down from center. This is unfortunate, but it does happen. Bigger machines have removable contact plates that can be remade to deal with this, other machines can be coated or utilize teflon contact surfaces that are replacable. But typically if you have a solid cast iron base, you have to shim it.

The alternative is to machine a new lower plate / base for the tailstock, making it so the contact areas are replacable. Problem with more parts is, more chance of the parts actually moving and causing trouble. Your choice though.

This method relies on flexing of the part and the actual tailstock quill, it doesn’t matter how big or small your lathe is, all parts flex and we can use this to our advantage.

Restoring a small capstan lathe – Part 1

Posted by on December 10, 2014

Small but sturdy…

This small capstan lathe was salvaged from certain doom, a lot of old machinery ends up sold as scrap metal — If you can avoid it and salvage at least one, do it. They’re well worth it.

Small Turret Lathe - Bare bones

First stages of restoration, initial coat of primer (still wet), ways cleaned up some and spindle / bearings removed, along with turret and slide leaving just the headstock mounted to the bed.

This is what the lathe looked like after the initial clean-up

This is what the lathe looked like after the initial clean-up

First order of business:

Remove all non standard parts, this includes the fume hood and other sheet metal parts that were fitted at the previous factory.

Upon removal of the sheet metal parts, I noticed a small 3 jaw chuck was fitted to the spindle — Unsurprisingly it was stuck, but we had to remove it and take it apart anyway as part of the restoration, so we’ll put that aside for now.

A few missing parts reveal themselves, mainly the X positioning for the slide was missing (no rack, no pinion, no handle). The slide was missing the handle and the push mechanism, no motor, only a single cast iron pulley, no collet chuck.

The turret was stuck, no surprise there. Water did get inside at one point in time.


Refurbishing the turret

What’s worse than a machine in bad condition, rusty, dirty, beat up?, a machine that is also missing one or more vital parts of it’s internal mechanism!

I was missing the lock trigger for the turret, this was a huge setback because I have never seen the part, I couldn’t find information anywhere, everyone I asked had no clue or they’ve worked on different capstan lathes, with similar but not-quite-the-same lock mechanism, so I was out of luck!

Decided to go full-on CSI on the lathe, I noticed a horizontal shaft where the trigger may have been pivoting on, I also noticed a wear mark on a stop block underneath, this gave me the depth of the missing part … Now I was “just” missing the geometry of the part.

Started with a rectangular piece of flat stock, steel (unknown alloy from the scrap bin, but with relatively high carbon content based on how it machined) — Marked the height for the pivoting hole — using an informed guess — Center punched, spotted and drilled it, then reamed it up to size.

I dyed the blank trigger, fit it inside the shaft and attempted to run a cycle on the capstan, it gets stuck (not a surprise there) — But this is good news, now we have transferred onto the dye where it hit. After several iterations or removing the part, grinding away some material, dying, fitting it, cycling, etc. I managed to get a full cycle going, success!

The final part looks like like this:

The fabricated trigger as seen from the side

Turret lathe trigger seen from the side

Turret lathe trigger being pushed back

The trigger installed, using a screwdriver to push it back for the picture.


Locking mechanism

However the locks were not working properly, a closer inspection showed a missing locating pin that would’ve locked both parts together, I machined one out of SAE1010 1/4″ round stock, should be plenty good for this application.



Turret lathe lock pin

Locating pin pressed onto one of the locks, it slides into the other.

Turret lathe locks

Both locks assembled together.

Turret lathe locks seen from the top

Top view of assembled locks


Now the turret cycles properly, it just needs to be fine-tuned so it doesn’t over-spin, failing to lock automatically on every cycle (requiring the usual “hand nudge” on old, tired lathes that aren’t setup properly).

The lathe is functional in the turret department at last, most of the remaining work on the turret will be to clean up threads chasing them with taps and other basic tasks such as priming and painting.

Focus is now on the spindle, carriage and chuck. Toolposts will be required.


So how did it look like when I got it?

It looked like it belonged to a landfill, take a look:

Turret lathe as-is condition



To be fair the ways are in good shape, other than the peck-marks from who knows what (parts falling onto the ways or tools being thrown over the ways)

Here’s a close-up after cleaning them:

Oil scrape marks on the ways

Most of the oil scrape marks are still there!

More to come…


Restoring an old power hacksaw – Part 2

Posted by on November 28, 2014

Slight progress on the saw, mostly pictures today:

Retapping to clean up the threads.

I couldn’t get some parts properly adjusted, turns out the threads were very, very dirty and some were partially damaged, so I decided to clean them up with an appropriate tap.

Since I didn't want to machine all the parts, sleeve them, etc. I decided to add brass screws throughout the machine to reduce play. The holes could later on be covered up if need be.

Since I didn’t want to machine all the parts, sleeve them, etc. To solve the issue with the wear I decided to add brass screws throughout the machine to reduce play. The holes could later on be covered up if need be. Here’s how I chucked them to face them as the last operation.

Brass screws were added as a temporary fix to deal with the play on the shaft.

Brass screws were added as a temporary fix to deal with the play on the shaft. I drilled and tapped three holes on the main shaft bearing.

These are the temporary modifications on the saw, the other side of the con-rod has another brass screw. These are temporary until I have the time to sleeve all the parts.

These are the temporary modifications on the saw, the other side of the con-rod has another brass screw. These are temporary until I have the time to sleeve all the parts.

Some parts were cleaned up, slightly polished and blackened as part of the restoration.

Some parts were cleaned up, slightly polished and blackened as part of the restoration.


This is how it cuts after the mods.


Hey not bad for such an old machine!, but we can still improve it.
More on this next week…

Restoring an old power hacksaw – Part 1

Posted by on November 25, 2014

A power hacksaw you say?

I always wanted one of these machines, this particular unit was based on a patent from circa 1890, amazingly these machines still have a spot in our hearts, and shops.

After many weeks of looking for one I managed to find a power hacksaw that was both in good shape (read: no missing parts, more on this later), it was listed for an “OK” price and it was also located somewhere near me, so I could have it delivered for a reasonable fee.

Despite what some people in general told me (“avoid this, buy an import bandsaw instead”) I went ahead and pulled the trigger on it. I’ve seen the import bandsaws and they require the same amount of work, or more and it is still a weak little thing that will fail sooner than later. Don’t get me wrong, most of them are meant for hobby use and will probably work fine for you after an adjustment or two, I just don’t like them.

And it arrived on my birthday!

This is what I got fresh out of the truck after a quick wipe-down…

Some assembly required...

Some assembly may be required…


The dovetails looked fine, there is some visible wear on the gib, but this was expected.

The dovetails looked fine, there is some visible wear on the gib (not shown) but this was expected.


Now THIS is what a 3/4" HP single phase motor should look like, at least size wise. Unlike the China crap we see these days with extruded aluminum body and two end caps made out of recycled pea cans this thing is all cast iron and steel, yey.

Now THIS is what a 3/4″ HP single phase motor should look like, at least size wise. Unlike the import crap we see these days with extruded aluminum body and two end caps made out of recycled pea cans this thing is all cast iron and steel, except for the pulley.


partially assembled, checking the wear on parts -- This needs to be addressed.

Partially assembled, checking for wear on parts — This needs to be addressed.


A bit of history

According to the guy who sold it to me, this machine used to be “blue” — However I was able to count at least 4 different colors after sanding one part down, who knows how many people owned this thing, for how long, where it’s been… how many parts did it cut?, we’ll never know!

I do know this belonged to his dad, he was what I would call a general fabricator / welder and I know he bought it used already.

I’m thinking this might be from the 50s but could be slightly earlier, sadly it doesn’t have a hydraulic feed, just gravity.

What’s wrong with it?

All the parts were  there, except for the depth stop. Oh well, that’s the least of my concerns right now given the wear on some of these parts, I’ll have to figure out a way to fix them at least temporarily…


  • The upper belt does not fit properly and thus slips under load, the lower belt is brand new and fits perfectly, so that’s good.
  • While the dovetails can be adjusted for wear/play, everything else can’t — The machine uses simple bearings (steel on iron, with grease ports) wear does occur and given the nature of this design, some parts end up being oval, which makes it even harder to fix without major machining.
  • The motor needs new bearings, it sounds terrible but the start winding works fine and the centrifugal switch also works properly, so not all is bad.
  • Conrod has play, the holes are not round anymore!
  • Wiring, terrible job and no PG / Ground, what the heck. Needs an upgrade, although I’ll keep the Bakelite switch, since that is part of the automatic shut-off and also, original to the machine.
  • Motor pulley is not running true at all. This was NOT the original motor. The machine most likely came with a 1HP 3 Phase motor as it was quite common back in the day.
  • Color, this would not be my first choice. Plus they did a terrible job painting over the old paint and rust.
  • I’m sure there’s something else terribly wrong with this machine but I haven’t found out yet.


First cut

Despite the machine sounding like an engine with a set of loose valves, broken rings and a bent con-rod I managed to get a relatively good first cut after assembling it. Clearly we’ll need a coolant system for this puppy…

So it cuts... but slow. OH WAIT A MINUTE!! -- They mounted the blade the wrong way around!

So it cuts… but slow and it vibrates a lot. 2″ round aluminum rod, 20xx series


Turns out the previous owner mounted the blade the wrong way around… But this was a new blade, odd. He handed me three blades in total, one worn (trash) one fine, one coarse (installed). I can’t help but wonder if they used this machine like that all the time, or if he just wasn’t paying attention when he swapped the blade prior to the delivery.

At any rate, the machine now cuts as fast as a power hacksaw should cut, with a coarse blade. At least the vise seems well trammed, I noticed some shim stock underneath, interesting. We’ll measure how well it cuts later on.

For now I’ll focus on minimizing the play on the main parts of the machine, replacing bearings, etc.

Paint can wait!


To be continued…