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  • A New Old South Bend Lathe

  • Tags: metalworking


    I had been interested in getting a lathe, and an old friend of my Dad's decided that he no longer needed his. It was perfect timing. Not only was it functional and reasonably sized for my workspace, it was also a little bit of history.

    Being used to the cycle of electronics that rapidly progress from latest-and-greatest to junk, it takes awhile to adjust to idea something more than sixty years old and expect to do some viable work with it.

    A Little Maintenance

    Ok, it did have some grease and dirt on it, and a little rust too. I concluded that it needed some cleaning. Once I started using it, I realized that I probably would never go back and really clean it up. So, refurbishing up front seemed like the way to go.

    What follows in this posting and in some following postings are some of the pictures associated with the process. The reason I document this, is for a couple reasons. First, it is intrinisically interesting for those who like machinery, but, also, for someone else who takes on this task, you might get some ideas of what lies ahead.


    My approach was, first of all, to try to do no harm. So, if something seemed fairly difficult to get apart, I wanted to avoid damaging it if at all possible, and would try to err on the side of caution. Second, I would try to clean off the grease and grime, and save the original paint if I could. Third, if I was going to paint anything I wanted to match the original color as well as I could.

    Finally, I was hoping to be able to put it back together correctly.


    Here is the motor separately. The motor is this model hangs off the back behind the headstock. You can see that that there is some rust on the pulleys, but not serious. This seemed like an good initial candidate for refurbishing.


    In this photo you can see the headstock and bed. The carriage, and tailstock have been removed. I waited until much later in the process to deal with the carriage. Because I had a limited work area, there were only so many parts that I wanted to deal with at a time. So, it was a matter of picking which battle to fight.

    bed and banjo

    The next photo shows the gears and bracket that holds the gears (also called the banjo), still attached to the bed. Getting the headstock off was a challenge, because of the weight. I was able to handle that by getting the headstock and bed onto its side, and then getting the bolts out. The banjo holding the gears, however, was perplexing, the bolts were loose, it was still stuck. Eventually, I learned that it just required some WD-40 and some firm movement to get it loose, but I was trying to maintain my do-no-harm dictum.


    I started the cleaning process on the motor. Using paint thinner, mineral spirits, and a paint brush, I started in, trying to clean off both the metal and painted surfaces. In this picture, the motor has been cleaned off to a degree, but there was still a lot of hardened grease on it.

    motor More cleaning on the motor

    I was having trouble cleaning the metal on the cone pulleys. At this point I still had delusions that I would not have to take everything apart. Finally, I used a spray can of brake cleaner on it. That worked very well, except that it dripped on the paint below, and removed/damaged the paint. And so, I realized that I was in for a bigger job.

    In this picture is the bed (banjo still attached) after using a degreaser, soaking, and finally with a power washer. It was pretty clean, but not really as good as it should be.


    I then learned about using oven cleaner from the Southbend forums on Yahoo. Spraying this on, waiting for an hour or so, and then power washing does the trick. It does take the paint off. But, I had accepted by then that I wasn't going to finish this project without repainting.

    These are various parts being cleaned. As you can see, the work surface was a sheet of plastic, then most of the parts were put on the drip pan and sprayed. The cleaner is caustic and requires rubber gloves. By cleaning on the drip pan, I was able to minimize the weight of metal pieces causing the plastic to give way and puncture.

    The drip pan itself, I left until near the end to facilitate this process.

    Various parts being cleaned

    Here is the banjo, removed and in the process of being cleaned.

    Close up of the banjo being cleaned

    Here are the bases drying in the sun after cleaning. After cleaning, if the part is not dried immediately, you see a faint golden haze appear on the metal. I noticed in some instances that it appeared to happen in seconds.

    The bases drying in the sun after cleaning

    This is the holder for the leadscrew and the holder for the back cover drying in the sun after cleaning.

    The holder for the main shaft and holder for back cover

    Here is the banjo and the holder for the main shaft at the headstock end.

    Banjo and holder for main shaft fully cleaned

    Here is the bed, fully cleaned and drying. The bed fully cleaned and drying

    Finally, here is the start of the dissassembly of the headstock pulleys and cleaning of it.

    Disassembly of the headstock


    While not particularly visually appealing, so no photographs, the way that I dealt with rust was either soak it in Evapo-Rust, or if the part was too large for a container to soak, wiped it with a cloth with Evapo-Rust. This was highly effective, although you can expect to see some pitting, because after all, rust had been eating into the metal.

    As an example of some of the rust, here is a picture of the milling vise attachment for the lathe. As an example, you can see some rust on it. There is not a lot, but I tried to eliminate it where ever I found it.

    Milling Attachment

    Having taken everything apart, my next post will show aspects of painting and putting everything back together.