My Latest "Project Lathe"


James P. Riser


An old Elgin Lathe by Elgin Tool Works in Chicago



My plan is to get this old Elgin into service as a production machine within the next month or so and to get it production ready not to restore it to new condition as I plan on putting it to work in my magic apparatus manufacturing business. It does need lots of cleaning; but seems mechanically sound. I do want it to look presentable, though.

I knew this was a quality lathe when I bought it; but did not realize the pedigree. It turns out that Hardinge made an early version of this lathe named the "Cataract". The "Cataract" name came from the river cataracts outside the original factory in Chicago. In the late 1930's Hardinge changed the name to Elgin. and they continued to be made in Chicago - where the Hardinge brothers began.

(See tailstock illustration below)

I just received a tip from Jim Rozen that the tailstock barrel had been reversed at some time (see all of the other pictures). I have just fixed that problem. Thanks for the tip, Jim. The allen wrench locking mechanism on the tailstock is not original.

The tailstock as it should be - except it still needs a locking lever made and installed.

Compare this tailstock to the old illustration shown below. Notice the details of the tailstock and lathe bed. Identical!

This is an illustration of a Hardinge Cataract tailstock.

The first thing I did was to weld the ball bearing steel wheels onto the base of the heavy steel cabinet. This machine is extremely heavy and the wheels make moving it on a smooth, hard surface rather simple. They do not affect operation of the machine in any way.

The lathe has a high and low range of forward and reverse variable speeds


Here is a better view of the operating levers.

I checked out the electrics and drive train today today. It runs beautifully; but the wire into the lathe needed to be replaced! The speed range is incredible on this lathe - it goes from just tickling over to above 3000 rpm. Things are looking good!



The collets are a rather odd "00" size and are stored in the wooden racks inside the main door. A nice assortment of collets came with the lathe. I still want a few more square and hex collets.

The motor is a 2 speed 3 phase motor and variable speed is by a nice belt drive system.






There is additional storage at the end of the lathe.



The lathe is equipped with a double action cross slide, six position turret, and a standard type of tailstock.

The access panels around the motor have been removed for cleaning. I do have them.




The turret - that is a knurling tool in the turret.


The lathe also has a flood type of coolant pump and system installed.

I have just purchased a compound cross slide for the machine and a geometric die head to get things a little more complete. The cross slide is shown at the bottom of this page.

Here are several images of the Geometric Die Head (I received a good assortment of die cutters with it - not shown):

I'm sure I'll be needing several specialized 5/8" shank tools and holders for the turret.

And there are also a couple small boxes of assorted spare parts, extra collets, gauges, and "stuff".

All of these pictures are the "before" pictures. When the lathe is operational, I'll post the "after" pictures. I thought "machinery types" might like to see the progress.

The clean up has started.......

I got the heavy lathe moved into my back yard where I can hook it up to 3 phase and do the actual cleaning. (Anyone have a cheap forklift?) I could not stay away from the machine - so I started the clean up on the old Elgin.

The tailstock has been disassembled, paint removed, and cleaned.

Here is what the bare metal looks like. It still needs a lever release made.

The double action cross slide has been disassembled and cleaned. "Dings" on this cross slide do not affect operation and will remain rather than being ground off.

The turret has been disassembled, any internal burs removed, mechanism cleaned, adjusted, and reassembled. This turret works fine but has many "dings" on the rotating head. Since these surface "dings" do not affect the operation of the turret, I have decided to leave them as is. If I remove them, I will get into the individual tool holder gripping mechanisms and possibly damage them. After all, I am trying to end up with a working machine not a museum piece.

Here is a "before" image of the turret showing the various superficial dings - all cosmetic problems. The rust is gone now!

Before cleaning etc.

After disassembling, cleaning, adjusting, etc.


The spindle nose is shown here - both before and after. Since I have all of that buffing equipment for my metal spinning, I thought I would clean up and buff the spindle nose cap. It is not plated. That is just highly polished bare steel. Preliminary testing of the lathe indicates that it is going to be a very nice machine. It is much higher quality than my 9" Southbend lathe; but not as versatile (no threading, power feed, etc.). But, what a production machine!


The headstock and pan with loose paint removed.


The next area to receive attention was the other end of the headstock. After checking, cleaning, and adjusting the collet release mechanism, the collet release yoke was disassembled and cleaned.

"Before" is on the left and "after" is on the right.

The yoke of the collet release has been cleaned/polished.


Another view.


The drive system after quite a bit of cleaning.


After additional cleaning, the painting was started.

The headstock as it now looks.


The tailstock after painting.


The controls as they now look.


The completed drive system (the louvered side panels will be gloss black).


The storage section of the base cabinet.

The "before" and "after".

And with the cross slide, turret, and tailstock..........


Oops..............I just found this spindle nose shield in the box of "extras".


Cleaned and buffed up it looks like this:

And a close-up...

Trouble in paradise!

The old Ames Lathe Compound Cross Slide I want to adapt to this Elgin Lathe arrived today. The qualiity is excellent; but lots of surface rust to be removed.

The problem is the height. If you examine the image below, you will see that the cutter height is higher than the lathe center.


My plan to solve this problem is to disassemble the compound and remove approximately 1/8" of metal from the bottom of the compound base. I will also remove another 1/8" from the top of the tool rest base. By removing the thick washer under the lathe tool, I will pick up another 1/4" in height. This should do the job.

I'll use my 12" Sheldon Shaper to cut the metal down to size. This will also leave a nice finish on the freshly machined surfaces.



Problem #2 with the Ames Compound is the front guide.

I will need to taper this to match the taper on the lathe bed - another shaper job.

I ended up using a spare compound cross slide from a watchmaker's lathe rather than cutting down the Ames shown above. I needed to get the machine into production so the Ames modification will have to wait. The lathe is shown here making chips.

The 5C collet chuck is a Bison brand. I machined a deeper (thicker) than normal back plate to give me additional space for 1" diameter stock within and behind the collet chuck. The lathe spindle hole will not handle 1" stock.

I have also added a four jaw chuck and two three jaw chucks. I use two three jaw chucks since it is much faster changing chucks than jaws - and time is money!

I really like this old Elgin lathe and have found it to be a pleasure to use.

Four years after the restoration, things look like this...

I picked up one of the correct tailstocks for this model of Elgin (the other works fine).

I also acquired a cross slide and an extra lathe bed with the tailstock. I use it to store lathe parts not being used at the time.

Another view of the overall lathe setup...

This lathe has worked out well for me. It is a quality machine.

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