Watchmaker's lathe

I am the lady that helps young women (and now young men) in Mexico
learn jewelry production crafts and make a living in order to survive
here. We do some production work, we have been asked to do some
finials in brass. I have been watching watchmaker’s lathes on Ebay.
But I truly know nothing about these. Of course any money spent is
also needed to be done well as we don’t have too much. So these are
to be pendants, with an Arabic flair, and of course it will be a good
learning experience. Am I on the right track? I am watching this one.

if someone here knows more than me, can you check out the listing and
let me know your thoughts. I am sure it will go up, but if this looks
to be a working unit, complete, then maybe this will do the job.
Thank you for any help!

Laura & the Girls

HI Laura,

Looking at the picture you sent through, that looks like most of a
running unit. (Hanuman doesn’t allow Ebay links, so nothing came
through but the picture. Which is more than he normally lets

It’s 110V AC, but they were originally treadle powered, so if worst
comes to worst, you could frankenstein it up to run off of the
treadle of an old treadle sewing machine. That might be worth
knowing, depending on the power situation where you are. (Failing
that, they can also be rigged to run on the little AC motors that
oldish sewing machines use. Those can still be easily found.) This
particular machine has an odd motor setup. It’s geared way down,
which slows down the RPMs, and gives it a lot more torque. Just why
someone would do that I don’t know, but it isn’t the normal way
those lathes are set up. The lathe itself looks beautiful.

What concerns me is that I don’t see the other pulley sheave. Look
at the lathe itself. See the cone with grooves in it that’s in the
middle of the headstock? (Dark brown, left side.) There should be a
matching one on the motor, or on that little jackshaft unit. (The JS
unit is the bronze-y wedge looking thing in the middle that the
motor is belted up to.) If you don’t have a matching cone sheave,
you’re hosed until you can make one up. If you already have a
running lathe, they’re not that big a deal to make. If you don’t,
they’re a right pain. If it were the end of the world and I had
to, I could probably file up a dummy sheave that would hold long
enough to use the lathe itself to make a proper one, but you really
don’t want that kind of a project if you don’t already know how to
use a lathe.

Speaking of which, lathes like that use the same round leather (now
rubber) belts that old treadle sewing machines use. If you can find
a store somewhere that specializes in old sewing machines, they
should still have the belting, and the ability to make up belts of
whatever length you need. You need the 1/4" or 3/16" size, not the
bigger stuff for the industrial sewing machines.

Getting back to your project: Finials. How many? How fast? How big?
How accurately matched? All of these things matter.

On a little lathe like that, (it has the chisels with it, which is
a good thing), but you’re not going to have much luck trying to
machine solids much bigger than 5/8" (16mm) or so at any rate of
speed. Down under 1/4" (6mm) it should do reasonably well, but it’ll
be slow, and the truly fun part will be trying to get the parts to
look the same. If they just need to be eyeball close, it’ll be OK,
especially if you make up templates first, but don’t expect to be
cranking out identical parts quickly. There’s a real learning curve
to freehand cutting like that.

Have you thought about trying to find a slightly larger ‘benchtop’
lathe that has a real toolpost? They have cutters that are set onto
sliding guides, so they cut accurately in both axes, and are screw
controlled. Less need of freehanding, and a lot more capacity. (Like
or this: Emco Unimat lathes )

There are all sorts of small lathes out there, many of them less
collectible (and more useful) than old Boleys like the one you’re
looking at. The prices may be better.

Personally, I’d look at units like this: the Ames, (which I have, and
love) Ames Lathes which is essentially an
overgrown Boley, with a real toolpost. (3ft bed, instead of 12")
(Photos of mine are in the Lathes. page for Ames.) Real Ames
machines are rare as hen’s teeth, but there were several different
machines in that class. Hardinge made one, so did Pratt & Whitney.

Those turn up more commonly.

Alternately, there are all sorts of small 9" machines that are
larger, but are the bottom end of ‘real’ lathes. Like this:
South Bend 8-inch, 9-inch Junior & Model R Another machine that I have and
love. They’re bigger, but they’re stiffer, and have much more power.
This means you spend less time fighting the limitations of the

A bunch of manufacturers made lathes in that class. South Bend,
Logan, Atlas, and Sheldon come to mind.

Sears (Roebuck) had a metal lathe line for years. They were
re-badged Atlas lathes, but they were small, desktop units. Not as
beefy as the 9" class machines above, but not bad. Certainly more
capable than a watchmaker’s lathe.

Hope that helped.


Thats a beauty.

But a big BUT!!!

theres an essential pulley missing, that goes on the countershaft
that matches the 4 groove pulley on the head stock.

You wont be able to use it without that.

So get in touch with the seller and insist that he supplies one or
drops the price by the cost of having one made.

There usually made from bakelite. Get a local machine shop to quote
you first by showing them this picture.


It is an older German make model. It is presumably of very good
quality, and if there are any problems it should be rebuildable. It
is designed for hand turning, and not machine work, It will require
some skill to use. You should be aware of this. turning metal by
hand can be tricky. (I usually do this sort of thing on a wood
lathe. It is doable, but wear safety glasses and be careful.) If you
want to get into machine turning, you should look into this type

eBay link removed // sorry, no eBay links on Orchid please

hand turning can be done on a machine type lathe by clamping a rest
on/in the tool holder. It may be as simple as a wide steel bar.

You must decide what type of work you want to. many types of metal
spinningcan be done on a wood lathe. wood turning can be done on a
metal lathe. the lathe you are looking at is small. It will need to
be mounted on something very heavy to keep it from vibrating. small
work can be done on big machines and you will not have the vibration
problems. (how much room do you have?) You will find that in a
teaching enviornment that tools of this sort will take much abuse
and miss use. The heavier ones stand up much better.

All things considered this looks like a nice, old lathe. It comes
with many tools and this is a plus. It was made for turning small to
very small pieces. If you can get it at a good price, and have it
shipped reasonably then go for it.

Hi, Laura –

Good work down there.

The problem with watchmakers lathes is the expense of the
attachments to make them useful in almostany way. They can be very
accurate, but when making jewelry that level of accuracy isn’t
always the primary issue. The real expense comes in workholding
(chucks, collets, faceplates and such) and the items to address the
work (cross slides, tailstocks and tooling, etc.) If you’re not
makingwatches, there are many cheaper and more flexible options.

Small:The Taig/Sherline line size of lathe. About the same size as
the watchmakers, but tons of model makers accessories, and not
quite as expensive to get into. Resale value is pretty good, too.

Medium: Next would be a lathe about the size of a Craftsman 6" or
one of the Asian 7"x xx" machines. Old American iron will require
scouring the internet for tooling, but sometimes (if you are
persistent) you can find it at a reasonable price. Asian products
get a bad rap for ‘quality’, but if you’re not trying to hold a
piece to exacting tolerences they may work out for you. Besides,
it’s the operator that really decides the quality of the outcome.

This size lathe is also large enough to be helpful for ‘around the
house’ types of things.

Medium Largish: A bit larger would be something from Grizzly or
something like that. There are also new Emco, Prazi and some
specialty manufacturers, but that’s a ton of money.

Finally, there are the larger lathes, but that’s altogether another
discussion. You might try contact folks within the Home Shop
Machining hobby for input, also.

If you are going to buy used, get a vat of coffee and check out
videos on Youtube by Tubalcain before you chunk down money, he has a
bunch of really good real-world advice.

Good luck – Bob

hola amiga, the lathe DOES appear complete, been looking for one

but no worries, im broke lol. but do you have the listing I could
check, and see what the details are? Looks as though you and the
ledies and gentlemen there would do well to acquire this.


Alberic’s reply is worth folowing up. Ive also had some more
thoughts as well.

What would be more useful is a small general lathe, preferrably with
collets these come in all dia’s and are for turning round bar stock
from long lengths.

So id say dont but this w/makers lathe it will be too limiting, look
for a small capstan lathe with say a 6in throw and a 18in bed.
Designed for small production runs of small turned parts.

Once set up there fast.

Hope this helps

Hi Laura and the girls

Watchmaker lathes for beginners would be difficult. The parts/ can
be hard to find and it looks like the one you are considering has but
one collet. They are not a great lathe for beginners.

You can purchase small benchtop lathes for your projects like a
Sherline, Proxxon, or others that the major tool sellers sell.
Easier to use and new would mean that the lathe is not out of
alignment or other “used” issues which is common with used tools.

Best of luck with your project

I have one of the lathes which is pictured in Laura’s post this
morning. As you will see, the one in the post includes numerous hand
forming or spinning tools in the tubes and on the far right of the
photo. It also has an adjustable chuck mounted on the tailstock and
what is probably a DC motor for adjustable speed.

My lathe has an adjustable chuck which is mounted on the headstock -
and an AC motor which is probably not as useful as the one in the
photo. It also has numerous collets for holding small wire in many

I would be pleased to donate what I have, even pay the shipping to
Jamie King’s Phoenix address.

However, if we are to really make the tool useful, I would suggest
that you solicit help from someone on Orchid with a toolmaker’s
lathe (and perhaps mill). The collets need a draw bar. (I think I
have the needed tap.) Fitting a DC motor would help. Definitely, an
adjustable chuck.

Maybe it could be turned into an Orchid group project.
Jim Baird

There's a real learning curve to freehand cutting like that. 

Lathes. It took me 20 years to work up to getting a real lathe I’m
happy with, because of the cost/value ratio. They are machinery and
they aren’t cheap or if they are they’re not worth buying,
generally. I’llsay that I’ve never used a watchmaker’s lathe, but in
this case that doesn’t mean much.

As others have said, watchmaker’s lathes are of a style that most
call wood lathes - there is a tool rest and you use chisels and your
hands to cut tiny parts. They are made to cut ~tiny~ parts, like
1/2mm shafts and 2 mm blanks for watch gears. Much bigger than that
is going to exceed it’s capacity. It’s easy enough to find the item
listed on Ebay - right now it’s $227.50 and $17.95 shipping. That’s
hard to beat but is it really going to be useful to you at any
price? Aside from the pulley it only has one small collet and no
chucks, so you’ll need to buy those to get any larger work done. My
suggestion would be to try to find a small metal lathe and then you
can do what you want and there will be room to do other work in the
future, too. A metal lathe has a carriage that holds the tool that
moves XY - horizontally and longitudinally. The tool is held by the
machine and it’s 100 times stronger and more precise. They also cost
more both new and used, but again, buying something that isn’t useful
is foolish to begin with unless you are a collector.

OK, small lathes. Brian listed some good ones but the real point is
that the website he used is really fascinating if you go to the home
page and start fresh. The problem withwhat he posted - I speak from
great experience - is that everybody in the whole world is looking
for used Atlas lathes and many of the others. They aren’t impossible
to find but close to it - somebody else always seems toget there
first, it seems.

Looking at Ebay just now there are none. There are a couple of
smaller lathes for local pick up only.

I ended up with the Chinese lathe which I’m happy with for the money
and for what I use it for. I went with the 7" for a couple of years
until the electrics blew out (and it had other issues) and now I have
the 9 x 20 - 9×20 Class Lathes – It’s a well known
secret that there is only one maker of this lathe - I forget the name
and a quick search didn’t come up with it. Grizzly, Enco, Jet and a
halfdozen others all sell it with a proprietary paint job, but it’s
the same machine. There are other makers of other small lathes but
this one is thesame with white paint or green paint. Taigs are good
but they are, again, small.

Bottom line - Metal lathes aren’t cheap. Even the small ones. Plus
mine is tiny and it weighs 375 pounds or 170 kilos. They hit ahalf
ton real quick - 500 kilos.

I’ll also recommend the age-old handbook for beginners on what is
actually a complex piece of machinery - How to Run a Lathe,
published by South Bend since the 50’s or something. It’sout there,
cheap, if you look for it… John D.

John D recommend the age-old handbook for beginners on what is
actually a complex piece of machinery - How to Run a Lathe, published
by South Bend since the 50’s or something.

I will add the book “Manual of Lathe Operations and Machinists
Tables” originally published by Atlas Lathes in the 1940s, updated
trough many versions since and still available from Clausing (
Machine Tool Parts Suppliers, Kalamazoo Saws, Colchester, Clausing Kondia, Atlas Lathes, StartRite Saws ) (as well as many pirated
scans on the internet)

Kay (Proud owner of a Clausing Model 100 Mk2 lathe, made in the
early 40’s and still accurate)

Hi Laura,

The more I think about it, the more I think you need to sit down and
do some research first.

Lathes are tremendously capable machines, if you (A) know what
you’re doing with them, and (B) have the right tooling.

The problem with (B) is that tooling is expensive. My big lathe is
worth a few thousand by itself. The tooling? Tens of thousands.

Don’t think that you’re done just because you bought a lathe. Then
you have to get it working. Budget at least as much for tooling as
the lathe itself, to start.

If you look at American lathes from the late prewar era (1930-1940)
you’ll find that they were designed to be very, very tough machines,
easy to work on, and frequently designed to be the “everytool” for
small rural shops. Most of them can be run off of flat belting,
which means that if you have to, you can frankenstein them to run
from just about anything. Water wheel, car, steam engine, what have
you. (Assuming you can find somebody who still knows how to set up a
shafting run.) You’ll also find everybody and their uncle hunting
those same machines. They do turn up, but you need to get your
feelers into the water, and then be patient.

One advantage you have is that there were a bunch of ‘knockoff’
versions in made in Latin America that were pretty good. You may be
able to find those, and the Americans won’t touch them. The lathes. site that I used for the examples will usually list the known
copies of various machines.

( Lathes + Machine Tool Archive ) Might be a starting place.
A Latin American knockoff would also probably have the controls
badged in Spanish, which would be a plus from your point of view.
(it’d knock the price down for the Americans, a double plus for you.)

The problem with an 80 year old machine, especially one of the
knockoffs, is that they’ve probably been used to death, and may have

If you know what you’re doing, and what the machine is supposed to
do, you can usually deal with them until you get them fixed. If
you’ve never done it, and have no idea what’s right or wrong, you
may be in for a real learning experience. Your goal is to make parts
for your kids, not become a lathe repair guru. A used machine may
not be the right answer, unless you can find somebody local to
advise you, and go along to inspect whatever machine you look at.

For reasons known only to the great Orchid gods who occasionally eat
a line or two of my posts, my suggestion to look at the Sherline
lathes got garbled, but they’re good, small lathes, available new.
Pricey, but well made for what they are. (Hobby class lathes.)

Certainly a better place to start than an ancient machine in
questionable shape. (Much as I love my “old ones”, even I have to
admit that they both took some serious TLC before they got to the
point where I could shave tenths with them. And they were in pretty
good shape to start with.)

In follow up to Ted Frater’s reply, oddly enough, we (Knew Concepts)
do actually have a small(ish) capstan lathe that we’re getting ready
to sell off.

(Turret lathe, for everybody but the Brits.) It’s a Taiwanese
knockoff of a Hardinge chucker. We were using it to second-op some
of the saw parts. Our new CNC will handle those jobs now, so the
chucker goes. That is a production machine. But it weighs…750?
pounds, takes three phase 220V, and you really need to know what
you’re doing to set it up. Of course, once you do, it’ll spit out
part after part, all identical, all day long, as long as somebody’s
there to pull the levers. For serious mass production short of a
screw machine, or CNC, that’s the sort of machine you’d be looking

( ) It sort of looks like a
blue version of the DSM 59, second picture down from the top, or the
color picture at the bottom. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you end
up thinking you’d need it, it’s available. (Don’t know about a
price, but somewhere around a thousand USD, probably.)

So, the questions you must ask yourself are:

(A) how big is my part? (Length and diameter)

(B) out of what? Brass? Sliver? Steel? (If it’s brass you don’t care
about saving the chips. If it’s silver, you do, and that argues
for a smaller machine. If it’s steel, you need a beefier machine.)
(C) How many of them?
(D) How fast do you need to make them in order to make money?
(E) how accurately?
(F) how many finials total?
(G) what next, after the finial run is done? Use it for general ‘one
off’ work? Use it for more production work?

I second Jon’s recommendation of the various “how to run a lathe”
books. Southbend first published theirs in the 1930’s, and they’re
still printing it. (So it’s expensive.) Sheldon lathes did a similar
one, and since they’re long gone, that one’s available in reprint
reasonably cheaply.

The Audel’s series are also worth reading.

Southbend book:

Turns out there are various reprints of it available, from various
points in time. They get cheaper as they get older. Look for one of
the more recent ones. It’ll have more modern practice in it. Some of
the things the old timers did are terrifying to contemplate.

While I was digging around on Amazon, I ran across this.

I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things about the author,
Fenner. For whatever that’s worth. Looks like it’d be a good place
to start, with modern info.

The Sheldon book is:

Audels lathe book: Couldn’t find it on Amazon.

One last thing before I go feed the (!hungry!) cat: I’m not too keen
on the modern mini-lathes from mainland China and India. (Harbor
Freight) I’ve had to help people unsnarl a bunch of them, and none
of them were worth the time it took to get them running right. The
Taiwanese are a different story, but it’s hard to tell which one’s
which. I’d go for 80 year old American iron before I’d look at the
7x29’s or other similar machines. At least with the antiques, you
know they were built right to start with, no matter how screwed up
they may be now.

The cat is about to claw through the door, so I need to get on my
way. He hath no sympathy for my encylopediae.


Hi Everyone, I truly appreciate all the advice and info. It is
wonderful to have all of this help and be able to not make a
mistake. In my case, there is almost no way I can have shipped to me
a 500 kilo machine. I should know this well after my friction press
was trucked here inside of Mexico! We didn’t have to deal with
Mexican Customs for this machine, but it still was somewhat a
nightmare. It weighs 2000 kilos. I ended up with an Ulcer partially
because I am a worry wart as well and as this machine slid on the
flatbed of the truck when he turned a corner, and luckily it had an
edge on it, that helped the 2000 kilos of machine stay on the truck,
barely, I was behind this truck in my car and saw all of this, and
the car next to the truck full of people that most likely would have
died had it fell off of the truck! I was never so scared in my life!
So that sorta kills that. Once it crosses the border from the US I
have a potential of losing it, because Mexican Customs can be unsure
at times, although much better than in the past, it would probably be
ok, but I just don’t know for sure. I have a friend who trucks stuff
into Mexico and offered in the past to bring me big stuff if
necessary, I don’t know at what cost. So most likely my best bet
would be to look for one here, they do have them here I am sure, but
the problem will be that it will be in such poor condition that I
will have to rebuild it. As to space, well luckily I have plenty of
that now. I need to think this over and figure out what is more
doable for us, to obtain a machine in the US and have it trucked in,
or find one here that is hopefully in good condition. I have a friend
with monster lathes bigger than my car, and he might be able to help
me. I think this might be a good piece of equipment for the workshop
being we now can do most things rather well, we have a big rolling
mill, friction press (60 tons), 3 punch machines of varying sizes
(new one being delivered Tomorrow 10 hp big boy), motorized draw
bench, and a oil lubricated wiredrawing machine, furnace (from for recycling our copper, brass, bronze, sterling
silver and nickel silver, among other machines. All of our equipment
has been rescued or is very old but in good renewed condition. Our
Friction Press is approx 30 to 40 years old from Brazil, and our
rolling mill has a bad reputation as it took off 4 fingers of its
previous owner, and also caught Pedro’s hand and gave him the scare
of his life but his hand is completely fine now, whew. A lathe seems
to be a good fit in what we already are doing since I can produce my
own bars and rails of metal. So I think a 7" to 9" lathe might be my
best bet, and I realize it will take us a while to learn to use it,
but I can find some support here, spotty, but we do find people. Most
likely I won’t be able to do this particular job, but someone here
made me think in another direction for the moment, there is a way to
do them with lost wax casting (which we can do as well) so if I can
get the example, or make up the wax form somehow, then I could do
that until we are up to speed with the lathe. This info is very
useful and thankfully it helps to pick brains. I can also see how a
small watchmaker’s lathe could be very useful for small things that
we have issues finding today, in part due to our location and due to
shipping here. So both have a good purpose! I now have 11 families
that I am helping, I feel a bit overwhelmed, but I am so thankful
that we have been doing good steady work and that has been of course
essential to be able to help more families. I am so thankful for all
the help I receive, I wish my Dad was still alive he was a jack of
all trades, he also was a machinist and would have been excellent
with this stuff, who would have ever thought I would be using big
equipment, my Dad certainly would have never thought that I would do
this much less in another country. You can see our little workshop on
our facebook page, I post pictures regularly there. And just to
mention, we can always use used and new equipment, like pliers,
cutters, saw blades, hammers, you name it, just about anything is
useful. We are spread thin at times, and this can give us a big hand.
Mostly our problem is shipping here, it has become so expensive that
in the past we used to get donations off and on, now it dropped off
almost completely because it is just so expensive. So Jamie (yay
Jamie! She visited us here too!) in the US accepts items for us. We
like nice pliers that I can send to be redone with Lindstrom, they
come out great, so if you have any of these or other good quality
tools, please let us know or send them to Jamie King, and I will have
her send them to Lindstrom and they will get a new life! And help a
young woman (and now young men too) make a living, and be able to
have a proper life.

Laura & the Girls