When you buy a new car, you spend the first few thousand miles “breaking it in” and the rest of its life “wearing it out.” So, it is with a lathe. Maintenance is required on a regular basis, and sooner or later repair is necessary. Maintenance and repair are tasks that most of us tend to neglect for one reason or another. My sense is that most people aren’t quite sure what to do. In this chapter, I’ll explain what must be done to keep your lathe running in tip-top condition and suggest some things that may make it run even better.
This chapter is also intended as an aid to buying a used lathe. A machine with a few years under its V-, poly-V-, or flat belt often represents an exceptional value and may possess features you would have to pay a lot for in a new machine. My father and I have purchased many classic lathes (wood and metal) at bargain prices, and all have more than lived up to our expectations. As my father aptly sums it up, “In former times, honest construction was the rule, and manufacturers weren’t afraid to pour a little metal in the mold.” Like the Rolls Royce salesman, I like to think of classic machines not as used but as previously owned. A little love and maintenance will restore such machines to their original conditions.
Fortunately, a lathe doesn’t require a great deal of maintenance and even thrives in an environment of downright neglect. There are some habits you can form and some things you can do that will greatly add to the life of your machine and to your enjoyment of using it. The first habit is to unplug the machine when you perform most maintenance. Other habits follow different schedules (see the chart above). Routine maintenance will keep your machine running smoothly for years.
|Every time you use a Morse-taper accessory||Wipe dust out of the taper socket with your finger and wipe the taper accessory.||The biggest cause of spindle damage (headstock and tailstock) is damaged tapers or taper seats due to dirt.|
|Every turning session|
Sweep or vacuum chips from the machine, then wax. all unpainted metal parts such as the bed, spindles, and tool rest.
Oil plane bearings. If your machine has oil holes or cups, you should apply a few drops of a high-viscosity (30 or higher) machine oil. Some older motors also have oil cups, which should be lubricated.
Wood is hygroscopic and even dry wood can promote rusting in the right conditions. If you tum green wood, this action is an absolute must.
Plane bearings will run forever if lubricated. They require a film of oil; if they don’t have it, they will quickly fail.
|Monthly||Grease any zerk fittings. Some older machines may have grease fittings for the headstock bearings and possibly the motor. They should be given one shot of grease. Do not over grease. This should be a habit.||Grease is required on a regular basis to keep such bearings healthy.|
|Annually||Clean all belt pulleys.||Dirt and rubber buildup on pulleys causes vibration.|
|Everyone to five years||Check the belt for wear and the bearings for endplay and lubrication. On most lathes that are used a reasonable amount, this check should be done more frequently. Since the spindle has to be removed on most lathes to replace the belt, you might as well replace the bearings. On variable-width sheave machines, belt replacement will be required every year or two, so replacing the bearings may not make sense in this case.||A worn or loose belt causes vibration and poor power transmission. Dry bearings will soon fail (if they have not already).|
|Every decade regardless of use||Replace the belt and bearings.|
Time alone will take its toll. Grease in sealed bearings will dry out, and rubber in belts gets hard and cracks.