“Just Look On Gumtree”, She Said!

As is my want these days I’ve spent the last couple of weeks on YouTube looking at videos of “blokes” doing amazing things to machinery. I’ve watched Japanese blokes hand make saws, American blokes make sanding machines and Canadian blokes restore lathes and build grinding machines. One of my favourite series of videos is by a NZ bloke by the name of Geoffrey Croker who restores a Myford lathe. The following is the first in a 10 part series he made on restoring his lathe. It’s not critical that you watch the video but it gives you the idea of where my head’s been over the past fortnight.

Anyway, as happens with such matters, my mind drifted onto the possibility of getting myself a “new” old bench-top lathe that would be big enough to do the jobs that my little Sherline isn’t capable of. I’ve wanted to do two lathe jobs recently that were both beyond the capabilities of my Sherline. The limitation has been less about the size of the motor or the quality of the Sherline – I find the Sherline lathe to be beautifully made and very accurate – but more about the limitation in the size of the work-pieces it can handle. At not much more than 60mm there is very little clearance between the center of the chuck and the bed.

So as I sat back and enjoyed myself “watching paint dry”, as my better half calls the videos I watch on YouTube, I started to think about looking into the possibility of buying myself a piece of old junk for next to nothing and doing it up, just like my NZ hero Geoffrey Croker. If you’ve watched the video you’ll see what rough shape his lathe was in so it couldn’t have cost him very much. $200 buck tops? That’s probably $1000 NZ dollars but even in real money it couldn’t have cost too much surely? 🙂  Anyway I asked my beloved, who spends most of her free time online looking for piles of old rubbish to buy, where I might go looking for an old junky lathe to which she replied, “Just look on Gumtree!”. You can buy lathes from a tree? Those in the know tell me Gumtree is Australia’s version of Craig’s List. I hope that means more to those of you reading this than it does to me 🙂

Anyway after an abortive attempt to look at the ads for lathes on my desktop computer I tried my tablet and everything went swimmingly. So much so that, much to my surprise, I found a Myford ML7 lathe or sale in Brisbane about 2 hours drive from home. The seller lived about 1km from my sister’s place. Now unlike my knowledge of various online sites I know a little about these machines and I’m well aware that they don’t come up for sale very often, well not in Australia anyway. The phrase that readily springs to mind is that they are “much sought after”. If I had a choice of the lathe I’d want to complement my baby Sherline a Myford ML7 would be either number 1 or 2. The other brand I’d consider, while still being manufactured, is well out of my price range. The poms who are into this stuff go into paroxysms of joy and get very fruity over Myfords, but they’re poms and as such have rather interesting tastes: a bit like Japanese without the Sake. I understand that Myfords, in spite of my lame jokes are a British brand and haven’t been manufactured in years, so the available numbers are a shrinking pool. So when you see one you grab it. And here was one for sale on Gumtree!

I contacted the seller and arranged to go and view the machine in question over the weekend. The outcome of that trip is now sitting in my shed.

This photo shows the lathe as it came off the back of my ute with the tailstock and motor removed to reduce its weight a little. It came with a chip tray and a heavy metal stand that aren’t included in the photo. I’ve placed a meter ruler in front of the machine to give you an idea of its size: almost exactly 1m long. This lathe is still in the range of a “small” bench-top machine but is a beast compared to my Sherline. I can’t lift it on my own even with it lightened for travel but I did manage to manhandle it onto a wheeled worktable by myself when I got it home today. I’ve got a friend coming over tomorrow to help me lift it onto the floor while I work out where I’m going to set it up permanently.

Not to put too fine a point on it the machine was in pristine condition, certainly better than the one that appears in the Croker videos. Everything worked, there were no broken teeth on the gears, the lead screw travel was smooth as silk and the machine ran quietly and smoothly. I was in love! 🙂 The only downside was that this was no junker and the price reflected it. I gladly forked over the asking price and had the seller and my brother in law help me load the thing into the back of my truck. Of course it rained on the way home but I had covered my new toy in a tarp so she was safe and dry back there. The seller had owned the lathe for 25 years and he’d found little use for it since he’d retired a few years ago. He insisted on going over the thing in detail with me and as he did so he locked the gears in place and whacked the machine with a mallet to get the chuck off, something all the videos I’ve watched suggest is the primary reason so many old Myfords come with gears with broken teeth. Having made a specific point of looking for the broken teeth that often result from such treatment I winched as he did this but as I wasn’t yet the owner I wasn’t in a position to stop him. Rest assured that I will not be using this method to remove the chuck in future. As an owner he was also obviously of the opinion that you can never have too much oil on your lathe because the machine was bathed in it. And then he proceeded to pump more into the bearings to demonstrate to me how things need to be.I suppose it was better than having it get rusty.

Do I need another lathe? Ah grasshopper, that is a question with no clear answer! 🙂 I’d been told when I was considering buying a Sherline that I would discover its limitations pretty quickly and that has turned out to be true. However I haven’t done much machining since I finished my last scratch built locomotive so the jury is still out on my “need” for this new machine. I have plans to build another locomotive soon and this time there won’t be a kit that was a close cousin to provide parts for the project. I certainly don’t want the Myford to sit in my shed gathering rust: it needs to be used and as I’ve recently been on leave from work with plans to retire permanently in the next 12 months I have no longer got the excuse that I don’t have the time.

As I was leaving the seller said to me “you know, you’re not the owner of this thing, you’re just the custodian for the next guy gets who gets to have it in his shed for a couple of decades”. I think he’s right. I have some plans for this lathe and a week ago, when I first went online to look for a lathe I could restore I had no notion that I’d be buying one, but this was an opportunity too good to pass up. The seller had looked up the serial number online and it turns out that this lathe was manufactured in 1953/4, so it’s almost a decade older than me. I hope I move as smoothly and quietly as this Myford after sixty five years of age. Somehow I doubt it 🙂

1 thought on ““Just Look On Gumtree”, She Said!

  1. I just discovered (and finished watching) Geoffrey Croker’s video series last week! I have no lathe at all but have been bumping up against the requirement lately which has rekindled my hankering for a Myford.
    I have no particular confidence in my ability to undertake an extensive restoration so I will, if it comes to it, be substituting cash for time and skill.

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