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This is a Swiss watchmaker's lathe (Note: Not a jeweler's lathe) from about 1880. The lathe itself still needs a little cleaning up as the compound is all gummed up with dirt and grease. I do not intend to polish the thing within an inch of it's life, but will clean the dirt and light surface rust.

The base appears to be made from walnut and possibly mahogany. It uses two bolts to clamp onto the lathe, unfortunately one of the vertical sections was broken and badly warped. Decorative (mahogany) face sheets were glued to the vertical supports, one had separated completely, the other only partially.

Of course the glue on the partially separated face refused to let go, a test clamp showed that the split was clean and the gaps closed nicely, so a little glue was added.

The broken section was badly warped (sorry no picture) and I was unsure of how to flatten this piece. I have heard of a number of techniques including the use of the microwave but initial experiments didn't look promising. In the end I used my oval box making experience and boiled the part for about 10 minutes. No doubt the water probably helps but the key is to get the wood up to a temperature high enough to soften the lignin and bend the piece before it drops below this temperature. Even more important, make sure to pick a day when your wife is out before using the kitchen in this manner. Like gluing, it is a good idea to do a full dry run with the clamping to be sure there won't be any last minute difficulties.

Coffee anyone?

I let it sit in the vise for a week to cool down and dry out, mostly because I didn't have time during the week to do any more work. A couple days would have been sufficient.

It's flat.

The bearing surfaces were worn and greasy so I used the router plane and chisel to true them up.

I cleaned up the exterior surface with a scraper and glued the section in place.

And finally glued the outer face back in place and applied a little wax.

The lathe belonged to a prominent horological tool collector and when it was auctioned was separated from a couple of accessories that I am hoping to acquire one day. I do need to make an additional stand as the lathe has both a T rest and a cross slide but can only fit one or the other. A future project.



· Registered
682 Posts
Nice work! Bending wood is an amazing process and study of strength of materials, physical properties, chemistry, and finesse. When I saw your plans to boil that piece if wood, I though, "Is he nuts?" I like using steam better but you gave me an idea to try something. That lathe is a real sweet machine. You just can't help but love the quality and precision of it. These guys made these things manually, No CNC devices. One day I hope I get to visit your shop. I have a story to tell you about my experience around watchmakers growing up. That's a nice router/scraper plane too.


· In Loving Memory
8,391 Posts
Interesting and beautifully made lathe. It seems to have landed in the right place. Good work!

· Registered
46 Posts
Thanks guys,

These tools are beautiful. This collector also had two rose engines and three Holtzapffel lathes. Most of the items went for far more than I could afford. He had a nice early American wheel cutting engine that will be a future project.

Years ago I took the oval box making class from John Wilson at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Ky. He boils the strips in a similar fashion. I've heard that the water is supposed to "soften" the wood or support the cell structure. I'm not convinced this is true as I doubt the water actually penetrates that deeply into the wood. Instead I think it may help to allow the wood to retain the heat a little longer while bending.