This section is from the book "Lathe Design, Construction And Operation, With Practical Examples Of The Lathe Work", by Oscar E. Perrigo. Also available from Amazon: Lathe Design: Construction And Operation.
Tracing early history. The lathe was the first machine tool. The origin of the lathe. An old definition of turning. The first record of turning operations. Another old-time definition of turning. English classification of lathes. The earliest form of the lathe proper, or the old "Tree Lathe." The Asiatic wood turner. The "Springpole" lathe. The "Fiddle-bow" lathe. The essential features of a lathe. The balance-wheel applied to a lathe. The crank, connecting rod and treadle applied to a lathe. Origin of the term "Pitman."A foot lathe built by the Author. Its detailed construction. A foot lathe with the balance-wheel located over-head. The friction clutch for foot-power machines.
The subject of the present work being the lathe and its work, and more particularly its design, construction, and development in our own country and in recent years, and as briefly comprised in our title of Modern American Lathe Practice, our efforts will be directed, first, to a brief notice of its origin and early development and use as a simple hand lathe; second, to its more modern development as one of the most important machine tools in the equipment of machine shops; and, third, to the various modifications of it, following its development through all its various forms and for the diversity of manufacturing purposes to which it has been adapted up to its present degree of efficiency.
In considering a subject of the vast importance of the modern lathe and its far-reaching influence upon the mechanical world of to-day, it cannot but be interesting to go back to its early history and to trace its progress and development from as far back as we have any authentic knowledge, and step by step to note the changes in its form and usefulness as the mind of the early mechanic developed, new requirements manifested themselves, and improvements in design, construction, tools, and attachments were devised to meet the growing needs.
It is conceded that of all the machines employed by the mechanic to aid him in his work the lathe holds the honor of having been the first machine tool From it, in one way or another, all other machine tools have been developed; as they are, practically considered, but modifications of it, or special tools for doing quicker and better, the several operations which may be, and formerly were, performed upon the lathe, as we shall later on have occasion to describe and illustrate.
At present we will look into the origin of the lathe and then trace its gradual evolution and development up to comparatively recent years, say an hundred years or so ago, as their development into anything like mechanical importance has been confined to the last century which has been so remarkable in this respect.
Upon referring to the older records on the subject of lathes and their uses we find this statement: "Turning is the art of shaping wood, metal, ivory, or other hard substances into forms having a curved (generally circular or oval) transverse section, and also of engraving figures composed of curved lines upon a smooth surface, by means of a machine called a turning-lathe. This art is of great importance and extensive application in mechanics, the most delicate articles of luxury and ornament, equally with the most ponderous machinery, being produced by it. The art of turning dates from a very early period, and Theodorus of Samos, about 560 B.C., is named by Pliny as its inventor; but long before this period, the potter's wheel, the earliest and simplest form of turning-machine, was in general use, as is evidenced by numerous references in Holy Writ."
Again we read in an old-time definition of what turning really consists of: "The immense variety of work performed by turning-machines necessitates great variations in their construction; but mode of operation is always the same, and consists essentially in fixing the work in position by two pivots, or otherwise, causing it to revolve freely around an axis of revolution, of which the two pivots are the poles, and holding a chisel or other cutting-tool so as to meet it during its revolution, taking care that the cutting-tool be held firmly and steadily, and moved about to different parts of the work till the required shape is obtained."
In England the various methods of driving a lathe gives a classification to them somewhat different from that in this country. Hence the following: "Lathes are divided, with respect to the mode of setting them in motion, into pole lathes, foot lathes, hand-wheel lathes, and power lathes; and with respect to the species of work they have to perform, into center lathes, which form the outside surface, and spindle, mandrel, or chuck lathes, which perform hollow or inside work, though this distinction is for the most part useless, as all lathes of good construction are now fitted for both kinds of work." Another peculiarly English idea in reference to lathes is this: "Bed lathes are those used by turners in wood, and bar lathes for the best sort of metal work; and the small metal center lathe employed by watchmakers is known as a turn-bench."
The earliest form of a lathe proper, that is, "a machine for shaping wood into forms having a curved, and generally a circular transverse section, by the action of a chisel or other cutting tool upon the piece, which is rotated for the purpose," is shown in the engraving Fig. 1, and consists, as will be seen, of two pointed pieces A, A of wood serving as centers and each bound to a tree, and supporting the ends of the piece C to be turned, while on the opposite side of the tree is fixed in the same manner a straight piece of wood B, which acts as a rest for the chisel or other tool with which the turning or cutting is to be done. The power for rotating the piece C to be turned is obtained by attaching a cord D to a flexible limb of the tree, passing it one or more turns around the piece and forming in its lower end a loop for the foot of the operator, who rotates the piece towards himself by depressing the foot, bending down the limb by the movement, which, when be raises, his foot, returns to its original position, rotating the piece backwards in readiness for another pressure or downward stroke of the foot. The work was slow and laborious, yet from old samples of the pieces thus produced we may see that an extraordinary good quality of work could be done, particularly considering the primitive methods used.
Fig. 1. - The Old Tree Lathe