Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sometimes Opportunity Knocks at Exactly the Wrong Time

During the period of time when I made furniture on a full time basis I was not much of an enthusiast about turning. Basically I did what turning I had to do and I wasn't very accomplished so you could say that I had the ability to worry things into the shape that I wanted because I certainly could not say that I was very accomplished at these task.

Because I wasn't that interested in turning I didn't invest much in turning equipment or tools. I was working on a Grizzly 14 x 40 lathe that wasn't a bad machine but most seasoned turners would have laughed at the prospect of that being a proper lathe. I had mounted this lathe to a large cabinet made from plywood and also made a bed extension in order to increase it's between center capacity. Other than that it was what it was. The truth of the matter is that I did a lot of good work on that lathe. It now belongs to someone else and I'm sure it will serve them well also.

Fast forward several years and I find myself having designed a line of planes that require a custom front knob. Obviously I have to turn them. After a certain amount of time turning knobs I became a more proficient turner. That spurred an interest in turning other objects and so I set about making Shaker style stools for my grandchildren and other assorted items.

A couple of months ago my friend Charlie Levan took delivery of a Robust American Beauty lathe. I showed up one fine day along with several others to help put that machine into his shop. It then occurred to me that there were much better machines available for turning and if the opportunity arose I should probably consider the acquisition of a better lathe.

Of all the older machines I saw that were available the Powermatic 90 lathe appealed to me most and among the knowledgable people on the OWWM forum this lathe seems to have a formidable reputation as a fine machine. The other fact is there were many of these lathes in school shops because they were built like tanks and the kids couldn't hurt them.

As I began my informal search it seemed that most of the lathes in good condition were at least a 2 or 3 day drive from my location. I figured I didn't have one the day before so it wasn't a big deal if I didn't find one in short order and I really didn't want to drive for 2 days to see a lathe and then decided I did not want it.

As luck would have it a machine came up in an auction from the Dekalb County school system in Atlanta. An equipment dealer in Stone Mountain Ga. had purchased this and many other machines. This machine was only an hour and a half driving time from me, however it wasn't running and it did not have a tailstock.

Fortunately there is a lot of information about this machine online and I started researching this machine thoroughly. I had a pretty good idea what was wrong with this machine before I actually went to see it in person. I also knew that as long as the spindle was in good shape I could always convert this machine with new drive components driven by a 3 phase motor controlled by a variable frequency drive.

If course there was always a possibility that I could have been paying a premium price for a large bit of scrap metal and of course this opportunity came up at the worst possible time given my schedule for producing planes at the time. I finally decided it would only take half of a day to have a look and transport this machine home. As you can see in the above pictures of the lathe in my truck, that's exactly what happen. The dealer sweetened the deal considerably given that the machine was not running and because there were a few missing parts. I was now the new owner of a machine made in 1966 and the cost of this machine at that time was about the same as an automobile. Try wrapping your head around that one. A lathe and a 1966 Mustang having a similar price tag.

The lathe sat covered in the back of my truck for 2 days before I finally was able to get it up on casters and rolled into the shop. Once in the shop I had to return my focus to plane making for several days in order to keep my commitments to my customers.

The next weekend I spent a Saturday morning trouble shooting the lathe. It was actually simpler than I thought. The inline switch was faulty and as soon as I bypassed that switch and put the speed control lever in the correct position the lathe started right up.

The lathe needed a few more tweaks to get it ready for use and I spent some spare time over the last couple of weeks getting those completed. I made a on/off switch enclosure with a magnetic base so it can attached to the late virtually anywhere there is ferrous metal, I installed a new belt and put the lathe on a mobile base. The base has a capacity of 600 lbs. I'm obviously very close to the limit on the base because I have to use a block and a pry bar to get it up on the wheels to make it mobile and I also have to let it down using the same block and pry bar lest it come down with a bang.

Turning on a lathe of this quality is a real pleasure and I'm now glad I took the time to seize the day on this tool, and luckily it looks as if I have found a tailstock.


The secret to getting ahead is getting started, Mark Twain