The lure of lathes, the Tri­umph of tufnol (wash­ers), the fun of fix­ing stripped threads

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How did they make the first lathe with­out hav­ing a lathe to make it?’ So goes the para­dox – but of course lathes weren’t in­vented, they evolved from the time when man re­alised that by spin­ning a slice of tree against a blade you got a bet­ter wheel than na­ture pro­vided. In­deed, you could ar­gue that lathes have been here longer than us – that’s the rea­son why the Earth is a sphere rather than an ir­reg­u­lar boul­der. Maybe there was no giant cut­ting tool to pro­file it, but its shape is still due to ro­ta­tion. The lathe ro­tates a work­piece against the lin­ear move­ment of a shap­ing edge – a pot­ter’s wheel is thus a form of lathe. As it moves along the work, the shap­ing edge carves out a spi­ral. The pitch of this can be con­trolled by gear­ing the ro­ta­tion to the lin­ear travel; thus was the screw thread born to the ben­e­fit of mankind. That’s the thing about lathes – they can do more than you think. This month I was stuck with a rot­ted away valve-cap thread in an old Black­burne cylin­der head. If only I had a tap a bit big­ger than 1¾in x 18tpi to re­cut it… well, in­stead I found a way to use the lathe to sort the prob­lem (see over the page) and it re­minded me just how ver­sa­tile this most primeval of ma­chine tools re­ally is. I couldn’t op­er­ate with­out a lathe and yet I meet a few peo­ple who have one in their shed but al­most never use it, how can that be? I think it’s the Catch 22 that if you are not an en­gi­neer, you need to do ‘stuff’ to give you the con­fi­dence to do ‘stuff’. My in­spi­ra­tion was be­ing told: “Just give it a try, all you can do is f*** it up!” The­ory will only take you so far; you have to learn for your­self how to get the best from a lathe, be­cause we all have dif­fer­ent prob­lems to solve. If you fail, don’t worry about it – you will have learned some­thing. When you suc­ceed it’s a great feel­ing and one that in­spires you to move on and try some­thing harder.


Ac­ces­sories make any­thing pos­si­ble with a lathe

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