Restoring an early 80’s Woodfast Lathe

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I’ve been on the lookout for an older heavy cast iron lathe for a long time, and last weekend the wait finally paid off. An old (70’s or early 80’s) Woodfast lathe was put up for sale at a great price, and I snapped it up. It appeared to have been left out in the weather in its recent history, so a bit of spit and polish was required, but the bones were in good condition.

This particular model has been my dream lathe, so to have found one is brilliant. Part of it is that as an old Australian cast iron machine from the days when iron wasn’t economised like now, it is heavy and very solidly built. The other factor, esoteric as it may be, is the styling. There’s just something about them that appeals to me. Particularly the tailstock. It evokes visions of the art deco styled steam trains of the 40’s and 50’s. I think it’s beautiful.

This is what it looked like when I got it. What you can’t see is that the bed had a good coat of surface rust, as with every bit of unpainted steal too for good measure. This also meant that any moving parts that could be seized were. The bench it came on was very stout, except for the top. Being chipboard, it now resembled my breakfast Vita Brits.

As I picked it up on a Sunday late afternoon, there wasn’t much that I could do on the weekend other than to get it settled into the shed. What followed was a week of afternoons and evenings cleaning it up.

The first port of call was to strip the whole machine down. This included removing the headstock. The whole bed was cleaned up with copious amounts of RP7 and 1000 grit W&D. Fortunately it came off fairly easily so no heavy force was required. Each evening I would disassemble the bits I could, and apply either oil or more RP7 into a seized part and let it sit till the following evening when it would have loosened up enough for me to work it apart. This proved difficult at times without an exploded diagram. Whilst some bits looked like they should come apart, they were so solidly joined I just had to persevere with nightly oiling until my hunch was proved correct and they finally moved, allowing me to congratulate myself on my deductive powers. I take my victories wherever I can find them.

Removing the spindle and bearings was a little scary considering the force that was required. Firstly the grub screws in the pully need to be removed, then the spindle knocked, hammered and finally pounded from the headstock toward the tailstock. Despite my penchant for hyperbola, in this case I’m not exaggerating, I really had to lay into it. Going the other way will not work, as the spindle is wider on the tail side. To be clear, you have to hit the spindle so that when ejected it lands on the bed.

Removing the bearings also required significant effort. They were a pretty tight fit with a bit of rust to hold them in place that little bit more securely. But with several pieces of wood as rams, I got them out. A note on the double bearings. They can both be ejected in either direction. At first I tried ejecting each one out on its side, assuming there was a ridge between them, which there isn’t. In the end I knocked them both through together. For reference, the bearings in mine were sealed 6205 units (the letters afterwards are generally manufacturer specific, so just find sealed units in the 6205 size.

With all the parts stripped, they went into a small bucket of vinegar and left overnight to loosen the rust. This is a triumph of chemistry over elbow grease. After a day or two of soaking, the vinegar will have eaten a lot of the rust, but not damaged the iron at all. For pieces with only light rust, I was able to simply wipe it off with a rag. More stubborn parts needed a quick going over with 1000 grit W&D to polish it up.

Then it was re-assembly time. I did purchase new bearings. At $8 each, it seamed silly not to while I had it all apart. I took some exploded photos of the head and tail stocks in case I needed to service it again in the future, and forgot how it came apart, or for some other poor sap in my position who is trying to figure out what does and doesn’t disassemble. Note the spacer in the headstock which I photographed in the wrong position.

Of course not everything went to plan on reassembly. See if you can spot the problem below (hint, I wasn’t planning on installing a linked belt). I woke up during the night, and whilst thinking pleasant thoughts about the lathe, had my epiphany.

Because I’m an expert at removing spindles, the next morning I gave it what for, but after a little initial movement, it simply wouldn’t budge. I even pondered if because it was a rather chilly morning the castings had contracted, and compressed the bearings onto the spindle, so let it sit in the sun for an hour or so to warm up (yes, I know, I know). Still no joy. Then with the clarity of hindsight realised that I was knocking it the wrong way. Perhaps now you understand why I take my wins wherever I can find them.

With the lathe all in one piece again, with the belt now hanging from the pulley, the final job was to fit a new top to the bench and cut the legs down 100 mm. The last owner must have been a giant of a man or woman, or they held the turning chisels in their teeth. Regardless it was far to high for me and my family. Unfortunately the top was nailed and glued down which made for a messy removal. I screwed the new top down in consideration for the next custodian of this lathe.

And that was it. All done. I mounted the lathe and finally late last night, almost one week to the hour, I managed to spend 30 minutes turning, (butchering), pieces of scrap. I really need to get my sharpening sorted out now, but that’s a topic for its own post.

In closing, you will notice the cleverly positioned cut outs in the bench top to allow shavings to fall down and slide forward to the floor to aide clean-up. I thought it a rather clever idea from the bench builder so replicated it in my top. I carefully measured the exposed bed areas and cut out just enough, but not too much. Having worked quite late into the evening to mount the top, and apply the first coat of varnish, I slept the satisfied sleep of progress made. Waking up during the night again, my mind drifted to having forgotten to put the belt on the pulley when inserting the spindle, and was having a chuckle as such a silly mistake. And then it hit me. I had forgotten to add a hole in the bench top between the lathe and motor pulleys. Sigh.

Lance

May 2020

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