On Tuesday 3th Jan 2017, I noticed a lathe for sale on gumtree. It was advertised as follows:

Hercus metal lathe in great working condition no use for it any more $750

new-lathe-01 Here’s the main picture that was in the advert. I decided to text the seller straight away, and luckily the lathe was still for sale. Secondhand lathes here in Tasmania are very few and far between. Not only that but lathes are expensive, and I don’t have a lot of money. This particular lathe seemed like a great deal, so I was pleased that it hadn’t sold yet. I spoke to the owner just a few minutes after texting him, and arranged to go and see it the next day.

My trailer is undergoing surgery at the moment, so I’d decided to hire a trailer. But luckily, after speaking to my friend Jason, he generously offered to lend me his trailer, and he even dropped it off to me the morning of our trip! It took a while to get my brain in gear, and pack tools, rags, remember to change into old clothes, and so on. We started our trip from Hobart up to the other side of Launceston at about 9am. On the way we remembered to stop to buy a tarp and some extra tie-down straps. We finally got to our destination at about 12.30pm - about 3h of that was driving.

After we got back (at about 5:30pm), I used my last remaining scraps of energy to get the lathe indoors and into the workshop. I had removed the motor and the the countershaft casting before loading it into the trailer. We also removed it from the stand it came on. It doesn’t look like it, but the stand alone is very stout and heavy. Made of 5mm angle iron. I would guess it weighs something near 100kg. So separating them was a must. With the lathe and base separated, and without the motor and countershaft attached, I could just about slide it along the trailer bed on my own, and I carefully lifted one end at a time onto a makeshift trolley, and wheeled into the workshop.

new-lathe-02 All this driving and lifting the day before had pretty much worn me out. Unfortunately, because I dropped all my plans on Wednesday, and I had made plans for Thursday already, I had a busy AND tired day and the lathe just had to take a back seat. Later in the afternoon, I at least managed to get the lathe reassembled, and back to the same state that it was in when I bought it.

I have also spent a lot of time doing research, ever since noticing the ad. The lathe is a 1951 Australian made South Bend 9” clone. It’s made by a company called Hercus, and they are well regarded machines, and there are tons of spares available. One particular guy (called Mal) has a website, Australian Metalworking Hobbyist, with lots of spares available. I’ve already ordered some parts off him and spoken to him on the phone. He’s very keen on these Hercus lathes, and is intent on tracking down as many as possible of the 23,000 that were made. So far, including mine, he’s up to about 2,000 - if you have a Hercus lathe, please contact him with your serial number.

Some of the features of this lathe include

  • 9” (225mm) swing, 22” (500mm) between centres
  • 1/2 hp Crompton Parkinson 1ph motor
  • 3 speed overhead flat belt drive
  • Back gears too, meaning 6 spindle speeds
  • Quick change gear box
  • Powered feed for longitudinal and cross-feed movement
  • Reverse tumbler
  • 3 jaw 4” (100mm) Burnerd self-centring scroll chuck

new-lathe-03 Here’s a close up of the carriage. Left to right from top to bottom you can see

  • Simple tool post
  • Compound slide handle
  • Crossfeed handle
  • Carriage handwheel
  • Clutch knob for power-feed
  • Three position power-feed (longitudinal, neutral, crossfeed)
  • Half-nut engagement lever for threading
  • Threading dial

new-lathe-04 Here you can see the strange (to me!) overhead power arrangement. The motor on the left spins at 1440rpm, and is geared down via a v-belt to the large circular wheel at the top. This in turn drives a shaft with a three speed pulley cone, which in turn drives the three speed pulley cone directly below, on the spindle. The casting holding up this motor and countershaft unscrews with two large bolts at the bottom. To the right of the motor, you can see a large swing-open door that encases a bunch of drive-train gears, transferring power from the spindle to the leadscrew. There’s a reverse tumbler in there, backgears, and a bunch of other gears. One day, I hope to add some new gears to my collection, allowing me to also cut metric threads.

new-lathe-05 Here’s another shot of the lathe from above. In this pic you can see some of the extras that came with it.

  • 2.5M of extra belting (enough for 2-3 new belts)
  • The correct outer jaws for the included 3-jaw chuck
  • A left hand and right hand tool holder
  • Some HSS tools, which don’t look too useful, even as blanks at this length
  • Spanners for the square-head bolts on the machine
  • What looks like a homemade chuck key
  • Gears

I need to take a proper inventory of the gears. One has a missing tooth. I’d like to know which threads I can cut with these gears, and I think I’ll do some research, and maybe put together a spreadsheet with ratios/calculations to help me figure this out.

new-lathe-06 I noticed there was a fair amount of left to right play on the lead screw when the half-nuts were engaged. I was concerned that the half-nuts were quite worn, so I removed the tailstock, apron and carriage. I gave the leadscrew a good clean up, and it appears to be in good condition. Bad news though! The inside of the apron needs dismantling and servicing, and it needs new half nuts. The threads were sharp, where they should have a flat top. See the next post for details.