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Lathe maintenance

It’s easy to overlook the need for lathe maintenance. That applies to other workshop equipment too, here is my post about dust extractor maintenance.

Recently I have noticed a problem with my lathe. The tail stock has become harder to move, and so has the toolrest holder (the ‘banjo’). I tried lubricating the bed, which helped, but it was still not as it should be. The movements should be as near effortless as possible. Time for some more serious attention!

Closer examination revealed a deep scratch along the bed. A bit of grit must have got caught under the tail stock. I could feel the raised metal along the line of the scratch. The bed of my lathe is steel, not hardened. I don’t know if a cast iron bed would be affected the same way. The underside of the tail stock had a corresponding scratch. I removed the raised metal from both quite easily with a coarse diamond hone. With a little lubrication, the tail stock now slides freely.

The scratch did not go as far as the part of the bed where the banjo normally sits. But I used the hone to clean that part of the bed too. The underside of the banjo felt smooth, but I dressed it gently with a smooth file. With lubrication, that moves much better now. I cleaned the thread of the locking lever with a wire brush, and oiled it. I also adjusted the tension of the cam lock. That was just a matter of tightening the nut below the clamping plate enough to let the banjo slide without sagging too much.

The toolrest

Another bit of lathe maintenance that should be routine is to dress and polish the top of the toolrest as often as necessary to make sure the tools slide smoothly. Some people rub a bit of candle wax on the top. That helps, but I find it forms small lumps that the tool has to jump over.

I made an oiler to lubricate the toolrest. It’s just a short bit of steel tube containing a roll of fabric sticking out at one end, with a wooden stopper at the other. I put machine oil in the tube to saturate the fabric and it lives on a magnet on the tail stock. A quick wipe of oil on the toolrest, or sometimes on the tool itself, makes the tools slide easily, and there’s not enough oil to make a mess. The late John Jordan once said that lubricating the toolrest is the only thing that can make you a better turner without having to practise. Being able to move the tools without friction or other resistance makes it much easier to achieve the intended shape in the finished turning.

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