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.
The designer of lathes. The manufacturer's view of a lathe. The proper medium. Cause of failure. The visionary designer. Conscientious efforts to improve in design. Design of the lathe bed. Elementary design. Professor Sweet's observations. The parabolic form of lathe beds. The author's design. Form of the tracks. Bed of the old chain lathe. The English method of stating lathe capacity. Method of increasing the swing of the lathe. The Lodge & Shipley lathe bed. Uniform thickness of metal in beds. Ideal form of bed. Cross-ties, or bars. Four V's. Flat surfaces. Lathe bed supports. Height of lathe centers. Wooden legs for lathe beds. An early form of braced, cast iron legs. Cabinets or cupboard bases. Old style cast iron legs still in use. Form of cabinets. Principles of the design of cabinets. Cabinets for small lathes. The Lodge & Shipley cabinet. The Hendey-Norton cabinet.
To the experienced and conscientious designer of machine tools the condition is frequently forced upon him that it is often easier, and usually far more agreeable, to design machines as he really believes they should be, than to design such machines as will meet the popular requirements of the market. He may be sure that a certain plan would make really a better and more efficient machine, yet he must, from the outset, consider the kind of a machine the customers want and will buy and pay for, since they are, as has been often said, "the court of final resort" in the matter, and machine-tool builders manufacture machines to sell, and not for the purpose of exploiting individual opinions, however good they may be, or the fads and fancies of draftsmen who are sometimes imbued with visionary and impractical ideas.
The manufacturer himself may be perfectly sure that the machines he is turning out are not the best adapted for the purposes for which they are used, or the best he could build for the money.
He may so far have the courage of his convictions as to build for his own use machines quite different from those he manufactures for his customers. Yet for sale he must build what his customers want with small regard for his own personal opinions.
By this it is not meant that the builder does not use his judgment in a mechanical way, or that he does not endeavor to build the best machines possible, inasmuch as he does give this very question much time, attention, and study. Yet he must, from the very nature of the case, always keep in mind the question, "What will the customers think of this new machine?" "Will this device be a success, or will it prove a failure?" Some machines that have been put on the market with feelings of much trepidation have proven great money-makers, while other machines possessing much mechanical excellence have fallen flat and a large majority of the customers refused to endorse them. The author has seen many such cases, and this has probably been the experience of every man who has designed and built machine tools.
The proper medium in the matter seems to be to keep as closely in touch as possible with the purchasers of machinery; to ascertain their needs and preferences as closely as may be; to anticipate their wants when possible, but at the same time with conservatism; and to avoid putting entirely new devices on the market until they have been thoroughly tested in the home shop and by a few friendly shops outside of it. And by entirely new devices is meant substantially new and complete machines, as the builder will frequently have parts of, or attachments to, the regular line of machines that are made to the order of a particular customer and that he feels perfectly sure of being well suited to the work that it is expected to perform; yet in these cases considerable caution is necessary.
The one fruitful source of difficulty, disappointment, and failure to be most avoided in the production of new devices is the mania often manifested by designers to produce something absolutely new, decidedly novel, the like of which no one has ever seen or dreamed of, and that will startle the mechanical world, revolutionize the business, and prove its author a veritable Napoleon of mechanical science.
When confronted with such a man or such a condition, the wiser course will be to abandon such ambitious attempts to eclipse all previous efforts, get down out of the clouds, design something of practical utility, even if it is not strikingly new; something that past experience gives some guarantee of success; something that will surely bring the proper financial return and be a credit to the shop. It is always well to remember, when tempted to go off on a tangent after something new and marvelous, that "a good adaptation is better than a poor original," and that when Solomon said that "there is no new thing under the sun," he did not come far from the truth, since many of the things we think are new may be found in almost the identical form, that have been invented, used, and discarded years ago, as the records of many mechanical libraries as well as the United States Patent Office will furnish abundant evidence.
By the foregoing remarks it is not intended to discourage originality, original thought and research, or the proper ambition to improvement, for we often produce more of real value by the effort to evolve mechanical improvements than by the design of entirely new machines, and the studious and observing designer will always be on the alert to devise improvements upon existing forms and processes.
These observations and suggestions apply with as much force in the efforts to improve the lathe as any other machine in common use. Being the oldest machine in the machine shop does not in any respect limit the field for improvements in it. Neither does it preclude the design of entirely new machines that may have, perhaps, very little of the characteristics of a lathe, although we must necessarily be confined to the essentials heretofore discussed, namely, a bed, upon which rest the head-stock, tail-stock, and carriage, or their equivalents, if we would claim that our machine is a lathe.