View Full Version : lube for Atlas 12" lathe

Paul James
04-03-2006, 11:15 AM
I am in the process of cleaning up and reassembling a 70’s vintage 12” atlas lathe. The owners manual calls for SAE 20 oil for most items and
Keystone #122 Grease. What type of oil and grease should I use?

04-03-2006, 11:37 AM
You want #20 machine oil. NOT engine oil. You can buy it from places like MSC www.mscdirect.com. You'll probably need to buy a gallon, but it's not very expensive and a gallon will last you forever.

For lubricating the ways, medium-weight way lubricant would be the proper thing, but the #20 machine oil will do.

For the grease...I'd think any general-purpose grease would work.

There have been numerous discussions of lubrication in the past, so a search of the archives should turn up some useful information as well.

04-03-2006, 03:21 PM
You may find that you have trouble finding machine oil (typically has rust and oxidation inhibitors and may carry the R&O designation) listed as 20W. The 20W designation is SAE and has been used for years for motor oils. A lot of other lubricants now carry the ISO viscosity designations. ISO68 is a rough equivalent to the SAE 20W rating and is a standard weight.

For most machine tools, you will find this stuff referred to as Hydraulic Oil as it is used for hydraulic pumps to provide hydraulic pressure and as a result also lubricates gears etc. These oils have anti-foaming agents which are beneficial in gear boxes which tend to whip stuff to a froth. Mobil DTE is one brand that comes to mind. DTE 26 is ISO68 viscosity as I recall. I bought the equivalent stuff made by Mystic (Citgo) at my local farm supply place.


04-03-2006, 03:45 PM
Paul just to make things more complicated with another opinion, you can use regular SAE 20 oil but make sure its non-detergent. its commonly available from anyplace serving diy mechanics.

04-03-2006, 04:04 PM
This is the best explanation I have found to sort out the mystery of what oil to use,it is copied and pasted from the metal working drop box.

What kind of oil should I use on my lathe/mill?

This is certainly a frequently asked question! The first answer is to
use whatever the manufacturer's manual suggests, presuming you have
a manual for your machine.

Feed-screw threads, half nuts, back gears and similar are usually
lubricated with a heavy oil such as Vactra 2 or 3, or grease if
protected from chips and swarf. Some suggest a mixture of oil and
STP oil treatment. (South Bend recommends the same oil as used on
the ways).

Beds and "ways" are often treated with special oils, called "way oils".
ISO 68 (medium weight). Examples: Exxon Febis K 68, Shell Tona T-68,
Sun way lube 1180, Mobil Vactra No 2, Texaco Way lube 68, Gulf Gulfway
68, Chevron Vistac 68X.

Spindle bearings call for "spindle oil" such as Exxon Nutto H32,
Shell Tellus V32, BP HLP32, Castrol Hyspin AWS32, and Mobil DTE 32
(in this case the 32 is the ISO VG32 spec, about the same as SAE
10-weight, and is what Myford recommends for their lathes). ISO
grade 22 is also used (it's what South Bend recommends, for example).

All three types are available from the better supply outfits,
such as MSC. Remember that the money you spend on proper oils will
be a lot less than the cost of replacing the machine!

That's a lot of names, but how do you choose? Probably the first
thing to do is follow the manufacturer's recommendations, if you
can find them.

South Bend, for example, recommends four different lubricants for
their 9" and 10" lathes: CE1671 bed way lube, CE1603 medium machine
oil, CE-1600 light machine oil, and CE1625 teflon grease. These are
available from South Bend, and the discussion and tables below
should allow you to choose an equivalent oil available from an
industrial supply house.

Failing a manufacturer's recommendation, a key issue is typically
the viscosity. There are a number of ways of describing viscosity,
most of them confusing. We will now make a quick attempt to remove
some of this confusion.

Machinery's Handbook has a nice section that goes into the different
kinds of oil performance for lubrication and how viscosity changes
with temperature. But it's not really detailed enough to make
a practical choice.

Most people are familiar with the SAE viscosity scale, because most
people have bought oil for their cars. What isn't immediately apparent
is that there are two SAE scales, both in common use: one for crankcase
oils, and one for gear oils! There is an ISO scale (VG numbers) and there
is the Saybolt scale. Let's start with the Saybolt scale, which is
measured with something called the "Saybolt Universal Viscometer":

In said viscometer, the oil flows through a tube 0.1765 cm in
diameter, 1.225 cm long, under an average head of 7.36 cm, from
a vessel 2.975 cm diameter. The time in seconds required for 60 cc of
oil to flow through the tube is the viscosity in seconds Saybolt.
The specification is typically given at a particular temperature,
such as 100 degF or 210 degF. (Something tells me that the numbers
in the description above were originally English units, not metric.)

With that description of Saybolt Universal Seconds (SUS) in mind,
let's look at the SAE scales. First, for the crankcase scale:

SAE SUS @ 100F SUS @ 210 F
5 92 38.5
10 165 44
20 340 54
30 550 64
40 850 77
50 1200 93

In addition, "Mark's Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers",
Eighth Edition, lists the following for Crankcase Oils:

SAE SUS @ 210 F
20 45 min - 58 max
30 58 min - 70 max
40 70 min - 85 max
50 85 min - 110 max

But it goes on to show the following for gear and transmission oils:

SAE SUS at 210 F
75 40 min
90 49 min
85 63 min
90 74 min - 120 max
140 120 min - 200 max
350 200 min

So you can see that the viscosity at 210 F for SAE 80W gear oil is
about the same as SAE 20W crankcase oil.

Finally, there's the ISO VG scale. From perusing a number of Mobil
oil data sheets, it appears that the ISO VG value of an oil is
exactly its viscosity in centiStokes at 40 degC. Unfortunately,
the relationship between cSt at 40 deg C and SUS at 100 degF is
not a linear one. But you can find a fairly complete table
of tradeoffs at http://www.bconnex.net/~noco/nocovisc.htm.
Here's an abbreviated version that relates cSt and SUS @ 100 degF:

cSt SUS at 100 degrees F

10 58.91
15 77.39
20 97.77
25 119.3
30 141.3
35 163.7
40 186.3
45 209.1
50 232.1
55 255.2
60 278.3
65 301.4
70 324.4
75 347.6
80 370.8
85 393.9
90 417.1
95 440.3
100 463.5

(Taken from ASTM Table 1, D2161-63T)

Also, SUS at any temperature is SUS at 100F multiplied by
1 + (t-100)0.000064

ie 58.91 SUS at 100F is 58.91x(1.007)= 59.32 at 212 F

To pull this all together, let's look at some specific examples.
Above, we mentioned the South Bend recommended oils. Not only does
SBL give part numbers, but they give viscosities in SUS at 100 degF:

Usage SBL p/n SUS @ 100 F ISO VG SAE (crankcase)
light spindle CE1600 100 21 5
medium machine CE1602 150-240 30-55 10-20
way lube CE1603 250-500 57-100 20-30

Thus, a good substitute for SBL CE1600 would be Mobil Velocite No. 10,
which is an ISO VG 22 spindle oil. Mobil Vactra No. 2, ISO VG 68, is
probably a good substitute for SBL CE1603 - it matches the viscosity
and is formulated as a way lube (has appropriate coolant separability
and corrosion resistance).

Now, multigrade motor lubricants are not recommended as machine oils.
This is for two reasons: 1. Motor oils have additive packages that are
designed to avoid corrosion and condensation problems that are unique
to the heat cycle and high-temp operation of an engine, problems
that are not found in machine tools. 2. Modern motor oils have detergents
that keep the contaminants in suspension (so they can be removed by
the oil filter) - most machine tools do not have a filter system,
so the contaminants will be circulated around to the bearing surfaces
rather than falling out of suspension to the bottom of the gear case.

That being said, there are several people on the list who are
very happy using Mobil 1 motor oil as spindle and countershaft
lubricants. The 5W-30 oil is approximately the right viscosity for
spindle bearings, and the 15W-50 is heavy enough for countershafts
and gearboxes. (Remember that Mobil 1 is a detergent oil, and it has
been recommended that it should be changed a couple of times a year
to flush suspended particles). The final choice is up to you, of
course. Machine oils have their own special additive packages geared
towards the requirements of machining.

Now that you've made a decision about what oil to use, how do
you oil it? Most lubrication charts assume production use,
and give oiling intervals accordingly. I prefer to spend five
minutes oiling the machine every time I use it, just to make sure
everything is wet and topped off.

A suggestion I've read is to oil lathe ways before using, to clean off
dust/grunge that may have accumulated since you last used it. After
work is finished, wipe off but leave a film for rust prevention.

Elsewhere we mentioned the book "A Brief treatise on Oiling Machine
Tools" (Guy Lautard) but nobody's posted a review yet.


04-03-2006, 09:46 PM
My Atlas book says;
"Oil the bearings every time the lathe is in use with S.A.E. No. 10 motor oil or a good grade of machine oil."

It also refers many times to "No. 10 motor oil or equivalent" in the oiling chart--Including the ways. Give me one good reason to spend $75+ on "special" oil. Apparently, the previous owner pretty well followed the book and this lathe is 64 years old. After I disassembled and inspected my lathe, it looks like it would last another 64 years using the same oil.

I think the hype over oil is generated by the marketing department and not the engineering department.

Just my thoughts. ;)

04-03-2006, 10:14 PM
This topic does come up frequently with many of the same arguments and rants and refusals to buy some such oil or the other for the lathe.

Tha Atlas book was written in the mid to late thirties when common motor oil was significanly different than that available today. It was closer to what is today's non detergent oils.

It was also written when the owner might have been somewhere out in the sticks, and made it as easy as possible for that owner to find an acceptable oil for his machine.

Today, way oil and good ISO 68 machine oil are readily available and economical. There is no reason not to use them.

I have a two year old McMaster Carr catalog that lists way oil at $8.84/gal and ISO 68 Machine/Turbine oil at $9.03/gal. A gallon of each will last you for as long as you own the lathe.

McMaster lists Single Grade motor oil at $2.79/qt. or $11.16/gallon, so by using the wrong oil, you might also be losing money.

It makes absolutely no sense to me when someone spends time and money on to get a good machine then nickels and dimes the lubricant.

doctor demo
04-03-2006, 10:40 PM
Just to throw in my two cents, iuse dexron automatic trans fluid in my mill
and lathe gear boxes, it is cheap and you can get it everywhere. been using it
for years with good results, i also use it in porta powers, and my hoist and press.

04-04-2006, 01:45 AM
The Atlas book was written in the mid to late thirties when common motor oil was significantly different than that available today. It was closer to what is today's non detergent oils.

You're are right on that point; However, today's motor oils are much better. I can't see a negative point in using viscosity, corrosion or lubricity additives. Do you?

The claim that "Modern motor oils have detergents" that keep the contaminants in suspension has no more weight in the argument than saying shoes collect dirt so you shouldn't wear them. In the Atlas lathes, there is no sump. The bearings are lubed with each use or during an extended use. Any suspended particles are likely to be flushed out with each oiling. Each lube means a fresh supply of oil.

It was also written when the owner might have been somewhere out in the sticks, and made it as easy as possible for that owner to find an acceptable oil for his machine.

Atlas machines were marketed to factories and businesses. An excerpt from an early catalog reads as follows.
"Precision is the heart and soul of modern industry--the secret of interchangeable mass-produced parts." ... "It is significant, we believe, that so many of the world's leading producers have stepped up small parts production quickly and economically by installing Atlas Lathes, Milling Machines, Shapers, Drill presses..."

I would hardly call that a basis for assuming the lathe would be used "in the sticks". Or that the period available motor oils were any less effective than the then available machine oils . If Atlas stated to use motor oil or an "equivalent machine oil" , it would seem to me that they are giving a higher acceptance to motor oil than machine oil--They are saying that the machine oil must be as good as motor oil, not the other way around.

While special gear oils may be needed in lathes with closed cases or sumps, the original question had to do with the Atlas lathe. I'm still not convinced that special lubes are needed at all. There are numerous applications that use motor oil in gear cases. Some of these run at 10,000rpm or more. On top of that, the oil layer is .0005 or less.

It makes absolutely no sense to me when someone spends time and money on to get a good machine then nickels and dimes the lubricant.

You're right there again! Why on earth would you buy a cheap machine oil cut with solvents when you could buy the best motor oil around. ;)

04-04-2006, 08:30 AM
The Atlas machines were the Model T of machine tools, and Atlas built them economically so they would be readily affordable to all. With that in mind, their lubrication needs were made as general as possible. The owner could be a production situation or someone way out in East Jabip, Atlas had no control, and wrote the manual accordingly.

It is a credit to the design and construction of their lathes that so many were used in production situations. Dave Sobel calls them the lathe that won the war because so many were used in the defense plants during the war.

The motor oils of the day were very close to machine oils, the difference probably being hype and dyes as much as anything else. Using them interchangeably posed no problem. Todays motor oils are much better for motors, but not necessarily for machines. This is why there are different oils for different applications.

Use of almost any oil in a once through situation such as the Atlas lathe probably won't do any harm, but since the proper oils are available, and as I pointed out, less expensive than others, there is no good reason not to use them. Detergents are designed to hold contaminants in suspension, rather than flush them out. This could cause gunk to accumulate in the bearings, rather than being carried away. I rather doubt this happening, but more is not always better.

If you were to price replacement bearings for your lathe, you would see why using an oil that is "probably good enough" might not be the best economical solution. Saving a couple of dollars on oil at the expense of a couple hundred dollars worth of high precision bearings is not good business practice.

Many of the machines being used in today's home shops were manufactured years ago, and the lubrication specifications are outdated, referring to brands and grades not available today. Thistle's post is a good explanation of many of the recommended lubricants and their equivalents that will help in translating the specs to lubricants available on todays market. Armed with this information, proper lubricants can be obtained, and there is no good reason not to use them.

04-04-2006, 07:24 PM
Todays motor oils are much better for motors, but not necessarily for machines. This is why there are different oils for different applications.

Well Jim, you'll have to expain the difference between machines to me. I thought an engine/motor was a machine. It's probably the hardest working machine on Earth. In any case, I'm not convinced. If the purpose of an oil is to protect and lube, most folks would want the best. I see no proof that machine oil is better than motor oil. The reverse makes more sense.

Ummmmm. Let me see. Why would a specific purpose lube (machine oil) cost LESS than a premium lube (motor oil). It can't be because they make more of it. It can't be because they put better stuff in it. I'm quite sure the marketing and retailing segments aren't trying to do you a favor.

I'll keep using the best oil, even if it means paying more. It's handy and I won't get confused about which Rodeo Dr. lube is in fashion this year.

04-04-2006, 08:26 PM
Well, suit yourself, it has no effect on me. As I stated, with the once through system of the Atlas, it may not make much difference.

However, motor oils are designed to operate at the high temperatures of IC engines, and to tie up the contaminants to be removed by the oil filter typical in a pressure oil system. Moisture is held in suspension to be driven off by the engine heat.

The low temperature, non circulating system of a lathe or other machine tool depends on the moisture and other contaminants to settle to the bottom the sump where they will not continue to circulate through the bearings.

The added cost of motor oil is for the detergents and other additives which make it less than ideal for use in machines.

In truth, the hype is directed toward motor oil, as that is where the suckers (aka the general public) that think something must be better simply because it costs more are. The machine users look for a product that will meet their needs and give the best return on the dollar. That is why many large manufacturers employ lubrication engineers.