View Full Version : Spoiled modern modelmakers...

J Tiers
04-23-2007, 01:19 AM
I picked up a book that is the first year of Model Engineer re-printed. Complete with adverts and so forth. Very interesting.

If you were a modelmaker with a home shop back then about 108 years ago, you had a treadle-powered lathe. Even the well equipped shop of a doctor had three such machines. No power.

Sometimes a "drilling machine", but no sort of mill. That was done on the lathe.

Not an electric powered device in the shop, as a rule.

Presumably that would have been true of the lathe Henry Ford had with which to make his first engine and car as well.

You have it pretty good by comparison.

04-23-2007, 02:43 AM
I've only seen pictures of treadle lathes. I imagine even a small lathe must have had a huge fly wheel to steady the power transfer. Has anyone here used one?

100 +/- years ago steam must have been the prevalent power source in large shops, but I remember watching a program on Discovery or the History Channel about a shop that used water pressure from a gravity feed water source to turn a water wheel that powered the belts. I wish I could remember the details, but I remember being shocked at the amount of PSI the drop in elevation created. The shop still stands and is a functional museum.

John Stevenson
04-23-2007, 03:35 AM
That's why the old turn of the Century [ last ] books are so good.
EVERTHING had to be done on this lathe, drilling, milling , grinding etc.

They had attachments we haven't dreamed of but have been lost in time. A classic example is the Eureka relieving attachment that Ivan Law features in his Gears and Gear cutting book.
That came out of a 1908 advert but was that small as to be unuseable.
I had part of the attachment found in a job lot of stuff and from that Ivan and Prof Chaddock built this up.

The question is how much more has been lost ?
Myfords made an attachment at one time to hold a con rod from an engine so you could line bore the white metalled big ends. This was made post war but was copied from earlier designs when only a lathe was available.


04-23-2007, 01:57 PM
Speaking of turn of the century books, anyone looking for old books in PDF form would probably be interested in the following:
http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=%22Industrial%20Press%22%20AND%20 mediatype%3Atexts

This search was for "Industrial Press", which published quite a few reference manuals. Also worth searching for 'lathe' and 'milling'.

If you're looking for "A treatise on milling and milling machines" by Cincinatti, copyright 1916, you'll find it here:

Or the similar book by Brown and Sharpe:

An interesting book on "Precision, locating and dividing methods":

One could spend days (weeks? years?) looking through it all.


04-23-2007, 03:14 PM
The Cincinnati book is excellent, but the 1957 printing is vastly updated. It's really cheap on Alibre et al. The Brown & Sharpe book is mostly a sales brochure for the early B&S universal milling machines.

I hadn't seen the Precision Locating book. I just flipped through the first chapter -- it looks really good.

04-23-2007, 03:57 PM
On the flip side, we don't ride horses and or buggy's for main transportation.

We got to where we are on the backs of those early Pioneers.

04-23-2007, 05:11 PM
And just a thought, nailed into my skull by an old machinist
(and now I'm an old machinist) :D

If you have to crank em by hand, you'll make damn sure those drills are sharp!

04-23-2007, 07:06 PM
Actually I did get a chance to run, (play with) and old treadle lathe once.
My first machining related job back in 1978, was in a production shop that made threaded ferrules for gas meters. Many of the automatic screw machines in that shop were operating antiques in their own right. One of them was indexed by a 600 pound weight that had to be cranked up to the ceiling by hand twice a shift. $3.00/hr and I had the world by the tail...

Anyway, the owner of that shop had one of the original treadle lathes in his office. Being an inquisitive 18 year old I convinced him to let me give it a go. I took a .015 cut off a 1" slug of brass maybe 1/2" long. Working the treadle while trying to hand crank an even feed is like trying to sing while whistling the harmony. I'll never forget the opportunity, or looking back into that office as I walked out and seeing that old fellow grinning as he was dusting off the chips I'd missed when cleaned it up after my playing.


04-23-2007, 10:31 PM
Have several reprints of Model Engineering, could not understand why they were planing and gluing up so much wood. Finally realized they were making PLYWOOD! Thought that stuff was always around.

04-23-2007, 11:08 PM
I met a gentleman who lives about 30 miles from me via another forum; he is a collector of treadle powered equipment. I had the pleasure of taking a tour of his collection, and it was staggering -- I couldn't believe some of the tools that had been produced for treadle power -- both woodworking and metalworking.

He introduced me to the Midwest Tool Collectors Association : http://www.mwtca.org/ -- despite the name, not limited to the midwest, but representing collectors of any and all sorts of antique tools. There will be a meeting in Raleigh, NC on July 28 -- I'm looking forward to going and getting another peek at some of the treadle powered machinery!

04-24-2007, 12:22 AM
Yes, there is something appealing and humbling about treadle powered machines that interests me too. The lathe I can't imagine, but I have treadled my moms spinning wheel for her when I was a kid. (She had twisted an ankle or something & couldn't treadle but wanted to spin. (Hobby spinner, weaver....))
Being a cyclist, I always thought my legs & cardio were in fairly good shape. Just try playing 10 or 12 tunes on a player piano for a work-out....I seem to have inherited a player from an ex-tennant at my warehouse. Interesting mechanism, too. He thought it didn't work. Took a machinist to fix it, I guess. (Drive chain off & worn sprocket...)
I remember some printing shop ("The Establishment") from when I was a kid, (early 70's) they had a foot operated printing press that was fascinating to watch....kinda like a power hacksaw.
Have fun.

04-24-2007, 10:18 AM
They had attachments we haven't dreamed of but have been lost in time

Oh, I think I have found more than a few of those... :D

04-24-2007, 11:10 AM
I suspect, with a treadle-powered lathe, one had a strong incentive to get
REALLY good at sharpening lathe tools.

J Tiers
04-24-2007, 12:43 PM
I suspect, with a treadle-powered lathe, one had a strong incentive to get
REALLY good at sharpening lathe tools.

And to get it right the first time........ :D

04-24-2007, 03:05 PM
I suspect, with a treadle-powered lathe, one had a strong incentive to get
REALLY good at sharpening lathe tools.

Don't forget also, that most of the lathe tools used by amateurs in the early days were made from carbon steel and often ground to the required shape (on a treadle or hand powered grinder) and then hardened and tempered by the user. The treadle lathe certainly was a good incentive to learn these other skills as well.