Now That’s a Lathe

CNC & Machining Energy & Sustainability Workshop
Now That’s a Lathe

At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from “hobby” machine tools are those used to build ships and power plants. I have no technical details about the lathe shown above, but the photograph was taken in 1957 or 1958 at the Doxford Engine Works in Pallion, England. If you like it, don’t miss the gallery over at Ships Nostalgia about English shipwrights William Doxford and Sons.  It’s chockablock with absolutely gorgeous, amazing photographs of giant men building giant machines with giant tools.

Check out the machine torch:

I bet that guy hoisted that slab of steel into place all by himself. [Thanks, Lee!]

48 thoughts on “Now That’s a Lathe

  1. O'Ryan McEntire says:

    I don’t think that’s a lathe… But awesome pictures! (I did however see several lathes in the gallery though!)

  2. John Personna says:

    I used to visit power plants as part of a past job.  Really amazing seeing the big lathes in person.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Not a lathe, this is obviously a crank shaft for a huge (boat ?) engine.

    1. John Honniball says:

      It’s a crank shaft, certainly, but it’s mounted on a lathe. Note the chuck at the far left-hand side. The operator is standing on the carriage, next to the tool-post.

      1. Anonymous says:

        So you’re saying the whole things turns at high speed and someone, standing close, uses a tool to shave off some metal? Really, uh?
        I don’t think there is even enough clearance for the crankpins.

        1. Derrick Weddle says:

          Speed is relative. You can machine some materials at very high speeds, but others at very low speeds. Don’t assume that it has to be traveling fast just because it’s chucked up in a lathe…

        2. John Honniball says:

          Yes, really. But it’ll be rotating very slowly, because the diameter of the work means that the linear speed past the cutting tool will be relatively fast. The operator will be standing that close, and will just have to keep his head out of the way — this is well before the Health and Safety at Work Act. As others have said, note the leadscrew all along the bottom of the photo.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Looks to me like a crank shaft *in* a lathe (isn’t that the chuck on the left?)

      [oops! looks like John beat me to it…]

  4. Mark VandeWettering says:

    It is a lathe.  The guy is standing on the tool rest.  You can see the lead screw running the length of the work piece at the front bottom, and a large four jaw chuck at the far end.  It’s obviously making a large crank shaft for a ship.

  5. Anonymous says:

    For all you doubters, that is absolutely a lathe. The operator probably machining the main bearing journal and the operator in the lower picture is flame cutting one of the throws to the crank pin bearing journal.

  6. Derrick Weddle says:

    Machinist here, and that is most likely a lathe. The crankshaft that is mounted in it is centered eccentrically, allowing the machinist to accurately turn the journals.

    The other (less likely option is that the machine is a crankshaft balancer, in which case the machinist is using the carriage to drill small holes in the counterweights to avoid vibration when then crankshaft is under load.

  7. Jerry Bryson says:

    Where’s his eye protection?

  8. Jerry Bryson says:

    Where’s his eye protection?

    1. Peter Simpson says:

      Real men don’t need eye protection, but they do need stylish hats!

      (and not a hard hat to be seen, either…)

  9. JamesW says:

    I recently saw what I thought was a big lathe on a low-boy semi-trailer.  I was wrong. It might as well have been a MicroLux mini-lathe.

  10. Halfvast Conspirator says:

    Wow, a lot of you are cranky today!

    Yeah, I guess the Brit OSHA was not yet in place back in the 50s.  How did the country manage to survive?  Why, he could put an eye out with that torch!

  11. Aldwin says:

    I have seen these lathes before……for you doubters type “biggest lathes craven brothers manchester” in Google video search

  12. Luis Lopez-Garcia says:

    The metal shavings are probably HUGE!

  13. Brad Huffman says:

    Wonderful stuff.  Thanks for posting this.

  14. Gaspard Gazule says:

    Reminds me of that picture of my father :

  15. Gaspard Gazule says:

    Reminds me of this picture of my father :

  16. Christopher Gosnell says:

    nary a pair of safety glasses in sight.  
    The man burning the plate is following what looks like a track pattern.  The first job I had in the early 80’s was drafting full size template patterns up to 8′ wide and 20′ long for burning machines with up to 16 torches in parallel.  The torches had electronic ‘eyes’ that would follow the heavy black line.  We would draw our templates on heavy paper similar to manilla folder stock that we would cut off of rolls op to 8′ tall.  We would then have to let the paper ‘rest’ for up to a week before drawing the designs.  

    Drawing the designs meant crawling around on a table about 12′ x 24′ moving a huge parallel rule, triangles, and beam compasses.  It made you feel like you had been shrunk down about 1:6 working on this drafting table.

  17. mark says:

    I want one of them Kidney Shaped Coffee Tables that one guy is makin’

  18. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it is a lathe.  The cutting torch in the lower pic is hogging out the steel for one throw on the crank.  The resulting crankshaft, or one similar, is shown in the picture above mounted in the lathe.  Derrick Weddle, Mark VandeWettering et. al. are correct.  The lathe operator is standing on the carriage, with his hand on the cross slide crank.  The cutting tool is mounted on the six-foot long bar that he is using for an arm rest for his left forearm.

    As for speeds, I cut med. carbon steel at about 100 feet per minute.  The journals appear to be about 18 inches in diameter, so one revolution of the journal causes 18 inches x pi, or 56.5 inches (4.7 feet) to pass by the cutting tool.  To finish the simple maths, 100 fpm / 4.7 feet per rev = 21 rpm for the lathe.  That means one revolution takes three full seconds.  John Honniball is correct, of course.  The important speed is the surface feet per minute.  RPM by itself is irrelevant.

    I had to enlarge the pic to be sure, but this appears to be the crank for a six cylinder marine diesel.  The crank throws are arranged in pairs, meaning the first two pistons fire 180 degrees apart from each other, with the next two throws opposed as well as the final two throws.  This allows the huge momentum of each pair of pistons to cancel out.  If you’ll notice, each pair is arranged 120 degrees, or one-third of a circle, from the next.  This means there is a cylinder firing every 60 degrees.  This crankshaft appears to have about a 3-foot stroke. 

    Big machinery.  Cool, huh?

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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