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Please help me understand the fascination with SB lathes.

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  • Please help me understand the fascination with SB lathes.

    Let me first say that I am not a collector of machine tools or antiques. I don’t have my tools to impress my buddies. I�ve used tools to make a living from the age of 16. I have never cared too much where my tools were made, only if they could perform the job at hand and put food on my table. Back in the 1970’s in high school I learned how to use a lathe. I was 15 years old and it was a South Bend lathe that I learned on. The school shop had South Bend and Clausing lathes. I remember how the Clausing lathes were so much better to use and seemed to be more modern.

    I read the article in the latest MW issue about the South Bend lathes factory rebuilt program. I could not believe the price they get to rebuild one or why anyone would spend that kind of money ($9000.00 to $12,000.00) to do so. The author did admit to becoming the instant envy of all his tool minded buddies. That reminds me of the people who base a home purchase on how well they can entertain friends at the house.

    I look at the picture of the Heavy 10 in the article and many things jump out to say these were cheap lathes compared to the Leblonds, Clausings, Monarchs and others of the day. My reason for this opinion is the following: Flat belt drive, carriage feed from the lead screw only (which should only be used for threading), light duty tailstock with no camlock, noisy open chip grabbing QC gear box for carriage feeds, slow spindle speeds, small spindle bore, thread on chuck (which the author changed to a camlock for $1800.00), antiquated back gear design, no spindle brake, spindle bearings or lack of, low HP for the size of lathe, weak bed and way over priced when the last heavy 10 was sold in 2004 (over $20,000.00, the cost of a new Haas TL-1 CNC lathe).

    For the cost of a rebuilt SB a person could buy a new industrial quality heavy-duty lathe such as an American Turnmaster 13-40.

    That is a lathe that copies the Clausing Colchester. I have used both the American Turnmaster and the Clausing that it copies and can say that it is every bit as good if not better than the original, due to the Turcite on the saddle.

    For the average guy who just wants to tinker and finds one of those $500.00 SB lathes I think that a great way to go. It’s a great lathe for beginners, very simple to use and not very intimidating. But to spend $9000.00 to $12,000.00 to rebuild one, not including the cost of the lathe, camlock spindle and shipping, I think is insane. I guess if someone is into collecting antiques and wants a restored SB lathe that is one thing but then maybe it should be in a museum.

    The author talks about the hardened bed being able to last a lifetime, but his 1979 vintage lathe needed to have the bed reground and the lathe rebuild. Is a lifetime only 27 years? I have seen many 60’s vintage Leblonds, Monarchs and Clausings that were used in industrial environments that did not need to be rebuilt. I hope the author doesn’t use his lathe much because at the rate SB has downsized they wont be around for the next rebuild. I hate to say that and I wish SB could have modernized their products enough to stay competitive in the machine tool market but they didn’t and have suffered for it.

    So please help me understand why SB lathes are so popular. What makes them so good? I personally think the one thing SB did right was marketing. It seems like they put those lathes in almost every high school and college metal shop in the U.S. So if you learn on specific type lathe chances are when you purchase one it will be the same type and when your buddy sees it he will want one too. The next thing you know we have this cult following of SB lathes.

    I am not trying to badmouth anyone’s lathe, I too have owned a 9â€‌ SB lathe as one of my first lathes. I made many nice parts with it but I sold it to upgrade to a larger lathe with more features. I am just questioning why someone would spend $9000.00 to $12,000.00 to rebuild one when a much better lathe could be purchased with that kind of money. And I would like to know what the fascination with SB is.

    I know I will probably get beat up on this board for this but its just my opinion

    Mark Hockett
    Island Tech Enterprises
    Clinton, WA 98236

    More chip less lip
    Mark Hockett

  • #2
    I have to agree with you on certain things about the South Bend, keeping up with modern design wasn't one of their best features.
    Now I know many who own one will say they are happy with it but for anyone looking to buy a new machine when they look at what SB offered against their competitors then it's no contest.

    And it's no good someone who owns a 1939 lathe saying it's the best thing since sliced bread because one lathe sale in 70 odd years won't keep a company afloat, they need current sales. Buying second hand won't generate the company any money if the original owner doesn't buy new off them.

    In or just after WWII Boxford's in the UK took on board the SB lathe under license. Over the years they modified this to keep up with modern trends, under drive motors, vee belts and later variable speed.

    Take a look on Tony's page at the various models.

    Boxfords are still going today with their adaptation of the SB lathe.

    Last edited by John Stevenson; 07-26-2006, 05:16 AM.

    Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.


    • #3

      Not one factory or machine shop I worked in ever had a South Bend. They're more of a HSM machine. During WW2 alot of businesses got their start at home in a garage, and the SBs were cheap enough to make the governments war parts. No comparison to Clausing, Monarchs, so on. They are popular because made in USA, affordable, and accurate enough for one-offs.


      • #4
        I never could understand it either,But like the profits reaped from those guys that have to have SB products.

        That being said, I do have a SB 7" shaper and use it from time to time.


        • #5
          Same in the UK with Myford. Factory re-furbs are reasonably priced, but who would pay $9000-$13000 for a new, limited capacity, hobby lathe?

          I have a Myford (1967 machine) and I like it a lot, but I would not buy a new one at that price.



          • #6
            I haven't seen the article, and am not necessarily a South Bend fan.

            They are a good lathe, and many consider them among the best simply because that is the lathe they have been exposed to. Many learned on them, and there are many in machine shops and maintenance shops even today. They are common, available and parts are available for them. I would rather have a good South Bend than a comparable sized economy Asian import. When you get into the better quality of import machines, the prices become comparable.

            There are better lathes, and there are worse. Having a lathe factory rebuilt is about the only way of getting a "new" American made machine. If you were to purchase a new Heavy Ten, the price will be higher, and delivery long term.

            Monarch is (or was) factory rebuilding their lathes as well. With the loss of foundries, and the high cost of castings, factory rebuild programs do make sense.
            Jim H.


            • #7
              In addition to JCH's comments, there is further warm and fuzziness directed at SB due to

              1. Ads they grew up seeing in magazines
              2. Perhaps learned on an SB at trade school
              3. The name 'South Bend' rolls off the tongue nicely and sounds 10,000 times better than idiotic names like "Jet", "Grizzly", or "Busy Bee"
              4. They appear as the epitomy of a classic manual basic a lathe a cartoonist would draw when he needed to draw a "lathe" in the script.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Millman
                Not one factory or machine shop I worked in ever had a South Bend. They're more of a HSM machine. During WW2 alot of businesses got their start at home in a garage, and the SBs were cheap enough to make the governments war parts. No comparison to Clausing, Monarchs, so on. They are popular because made in USA, affordable, and accurate enough for one-offs.
                Have you ever SEEN a S-B? (I know you have seen many).

                I ask the stupid question because there are sort-of two south-Bend lathe varieties.

                There are the small 9" and so forth, very light-built, like an Atlas. For farms, auto shops etc, small e-motor turning etc.

                Then there are 13" and above machines, including probably the "heavy 10".... Not anything like the little machines, they are made to do work. They are not the "super lathes" mentioned over on PM, but they will do serious work.

                Ain't no 18" x 12 foot machine that can be called a "home shop" machine.... altthough I don't think it is remotely like a Monarch either. Probably were an awful lot of machines like that in local machine shops, boatyards, etc, etc.

                The thing I can't figure out is how a rust-spotted 300lb 9" S-B with no accessories and no drive can possibly be put up[ for sale at $1000 with a straight face.... but I see it around here. No idea if they sell, but they are "for sale" at that sort of price..... when a good 10" Logan, half-again heavier, sells for a little over half that with accessories.

                I think a lot of people don't know any other name of a lathe maker, and think S-B is something special.
                Last edited by J Tiers; 07-26-2006, 09:06 AM.

                Keep eye on ball.
                Hashim Khan


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Millman
                  Not one factory or machine shop I worked in ever had a South Bend. They're more of a HSM machine. During WW2 alot of businesses got their start at home in a garage, and the SBs were cheap enough to make the governments war parts. No comparison to Clausing, Monarchs, so on. They are popular because made in USA, affordable, and accurate enough for one-offs.

                  HMMMM- My 9 inch south bend is ex US Navy - are they a bunch HSM I wonder?


                  • #10
                    {{are they a bunch HSM I wonder?}} Naw...just small sailors.


                    • #11
                      lets clear one thing up the s-b drives the carrage off of the key way in the lead screw not the threads. so you are not putting wear on the screw when using it for carrage feeds.

                      now they are not the best machines but way ahead of the atlas.

                      alot of people like monarchs well i would not have one of those electrcal nightmares in my shop.another one for the s-b they are easy to fix.they are not and never were hight out put production machines. look at the old adds. they stress tool room general repair.


                      • #12
                        S.B. kinda like a harley?

                        Mark,,, i actually learned allot about lathes just by reading your post, I think the only answer to your question is a type of nostalgic apeal, I know this is going to ruckle allot of tail feathers but having worked at a motorcycle repair shop for years I also questioned this same mind set when it comes to harleys,,, why in the hell would anybody pay 25,000 for a piece of crap when they can have 10 times the machine and refinement and performance and technology for under half the price, I unlike you really dont care what anybody thinks and in fact have come very close to getting my butt kicked in pubs when a group of harley riders start blabbing about thier bikes and i imediatly shut them down and tell them that my little F1 cbr 600 is sitting outside and even though the engine is half the size it will make any of their bikes look slow, sound like junk, and outhandle them terribly, they are crude pieces of crap and i would not mix cement or roto till my garden with one of those engines (the oil leaks alone would kill all future vegitation) If your going to kick out 25,000 bucks at least get a Ducati desmodramic --- talk about mechanical art, if you want the biggest refinement bang for your buck then you cant go wrong with any of the japaneese, some of the little 600's have redlines over 16,000 rpm now and are very advanced, and yes they make some very refined cruisers too,
                        the only thing i can figure is nostalic apeal in some way --- if this is the case then all is good but dont ever compare a harley to a real motorcycle in a mechanical sense, maybe its the loud wet fart sound or the way the out of balance twin pleases your girlfriends muff at 3,600 rpm's which in that case if she's getting that much pleasure off your motorcycle you might want to ask yourself a few questions ------------ sorry for the rant, but this is for all the wet fart machines that feel like they have to open the throttle as they go by us cyclist while were riding on the shoulder of the road.... Harleys suck, they always have --- they always will....


                        • #13
                          This is a very simple question. The 9" lathe for the space limited home shop machinist is the ideal size lathe. You are given very few options, the import 9x20 or a used southbend for less money?(mine was 475$) Make more sense now?
                          Now with that said, people are getting ripped off for the price of parts on these things on ebay.


                          • #14
                            Harley Blasphemy

                            Maybe South Bends are a little like Harleys. But, Harley blasphemy cannot go unchallenged... Most Harleys are on the road for 50+ years, and so are S-B's. Most imports are lucky to see 10 years without major repairs or complete collapse. The technology is simple and can be repaired with a little common sense and some basic machine work. They're both reliable as hell, fit you like a good pair of Levi's (not calvin Kliens), and do what they're supposed to do. Neither one is going to win any speed races, but it will get you to the finish line. Oh yea, more people want a Harley or a S-B than want to wear spandex and peddle uphill for hours.

                            Disclaimers: Yes, I've owned Harley's for over 40 years (I've also got a Raleigh all alloy 10 speed - no spandex). No, they don't leak oil unless you let them - Harley's that is, S-B's do leak oil. No, I don't have any tatoos. Yes, I learned on a S-B. No, I don't have one - But I'd like to have one. Yes I still have a Harley and I think they sound much better than the tinny sound of an import, and a Triumph, and an MG - old one; not the new china import.

                            soap box mode off


                            • #15
                              It's because South Bends were ubiquitous. Every high school shop had them. Every trade school had them. Every college physics lab had them.They were relatively cheap and reliable. They could put up with a lot of abuse at the hands of a student. They fit anywhere. A shop always had room for a small lathe. As a kid I don't remember a garage that didn't have an atlas or a SB.