Questions and comments to - Update, Sept 2017

(The camera and lighting give a slightly altered colour, such as the bare metal looking brown/rusted. All bare metal is clean. shiny and totally free of surface rust)

South Bend Machine Lathe -9" Model C, serial 161996.

Delivered on May 5, 1945, to the Canadian Fairbanks-Morse Company, Barrington St, Halifax, Nova Scotia, this lathe was produced when WWII was ongoing. The shipping tag indicated it was shipped without motor but I am unsure if this means just the motor or was the entire back drive not supplied. For as long as I know, it has had a 1937 Hoover 1/4 HP induction-start motor. The drum switch is a Furnas brand with South Bend Lathe embossed in the label. The drum switches of the WWII era appear to have been round-cased whereas mine is the square-cased which appeared in the 50's and later and it uses an original bed-mount clamp to mount the switch. Just when the motor and switch were added will never be known.

There are several differences in the lathes produced at that time. The paint was very thin and the castings were left rough with no filler anywhere.There are only a few pieces of brass in the entire lathe, the rubbing block for the backgear tensioner and the holders for the v-wicks on the carriage. There are no brass bushings used. The backdrive, countershaft bearings and lead screw main bearing are bored cast iron with a groove for a wick. The lathe frame has a label, "This machine conforms to the orders of the War Production Board". Another difference which may not be strictly related to the WWII-built machines is the SOUTH BEND LATHE is stamped into the casting, on the lower edge, rather than embossed or with a metal tag mounted mid-way up the tail end of the bed.

I have not seen anything similar in any recent photo or vintage catalogue.Was the SBL logo moved to give preference to the War Production label?

The War Production Board (WPB) metal plate is in good condition, and indicates the era under which it was built.

I don't recall what colour it was when I first saw it. Although it received a quick slap of grey paint at one time, and the last "custodian" sprayed the thing with a gastly seafoam green metallic, the colour was orginally a dark olive green. This was proven after the removal of the War Production plate, and traces were found on other components.

Under the WPB label was this colour. It is an Armed Forces colour, khaki or olive drab(although in the photo it looks a bit brown). Perhap the lathes ordered by the Army were painted this colour. The paint is very thin. Minimalist finish throughout.
Another possibility is that it was the colour preferred by the Fairbanks-Morse Company(FMC) who originally took delivery of this machine. I have a 1945/46 FMC 120v/60Hz generator (built by Onan) that was the exact same colour.

To explain the differences in colour and construction that most would see on a South Bend, I looked for info on the WPB.

The WPB, former U.S. government agency, was established (Jan., 1942) by executive order to direct war production and the procurement of materials in World War II. The chairman (Donald M. Nelson, 1942-44; Julius A. Krug, 1944-45) was granted sweeping powers over the nation's economic life. The WPB converted and expanded the peacetime economy to maximum war production; controls included assignment of priorities to deliveries of scarce materials and prohibition of nonessential industrial activities. During its three-year existence the WPB supervised the production of $185 billion worth of weapons and supplies.

Under the directives of the WPB, lathes were affected by the regulations, at least brass was restricted to essential war requirements. Further details about war restrictions where supplied by Rose Marvin, Parts Works, Inc.

"In 1943, South Bend catalogs stated, "For the duration South Bend Lathes will be finished in gray enamel applied directly to the casting-no filler will be used. This finish will be as durable but it will not be as smooth as the finish formerly used." These lathes were then marked with the War Production Board tag. That tag refers to the finish put on the lathes. South Bend Lathe was not to spend extra time putting a nice smooth finish on the machines. They needed to ship them ASAP. Stories have been told at South Bend Lathe that back during the war, SBL was shipping over 1000 machines per month. I have been told that there were a lot of lathes painted green. To my knowledge South Bend lathes were always gray unless specified a different color by the customer."

So there are possibilities about why my lathe was olive green. It might have originally been intended for distribution to the Armed Forces and painted to suit. But , the purchaser was Fairbanks-Morse, a company which sold everything from hand tools to steam boilers and engines. It would have enough buying power to order 100 lathes and have them painted their colour. From working with antique machinery produced many years ago, I have found that Fairbanks-Morse equipment was painted a dark green or olive/khaki green. Whatever the reason, I am confident of the original colour and my paint choice is very close to the original.


(The overhaul process took 2 years, fitting in my hobby with other more important house chores is tricky).

Once in my workshop , I immediatley took the lathe apart, every single nut and bolt. Over the following months, all parts were stripped of paint, grease or rust using the process of electrolysis (see more on this process) only.

The lathe bed is 4 foot. This unit does not seem to fit very well in round 5 gallon pail which is how I clean most things. So I had to get creative and fabricate a cleaning tub to strip it in.


The cleaning tub was made from a thick-walled PVC pipe, sliced through the side to create an opening.
The ends were made from pressure-treated lumber, cut round to fit the ends, soaked in Pentox to keep the wood from turning to pulp, sealed with silicone rubber and screwed in place.
The anode was a large bolt slipped through a chunk of wood that I could move around to clean the sides and ends and within the web of the lathe frame.
The beige box that has wires going to the lathe bath is my power supply to do electrolysis with. It is a scrapped UPS (Uniterruptable Power Supply) that the battery was shot in. It produces a very dependable high current supply at about 24 volts. It took about a week of moving the anode around and scrubbing the frame with a soft brush to finally clean every bit of paint and oil from it. The lathe had no rust at all on any part.

Each part was masked, primed and painted. It took awhile to find the right colour and paint. Several attempts to get the paint stores to mix up a colour match enamel failed, I didn't have many original patches of paint to work with. I ended up using Krylon brand spray paint called Olive/Drab camoflage paint. While this is a flat paint, 2 coats gave a light gloss, and a quick rub of Simonize hard wax gave a semi-gloss finish quite suitable for the purpose. The painted parts were left out in the summer sun and heat to cure and and I have found the surface to be tough ( a light impact will not dent the paint) and resistant to all liquids except laquer thinners.

Through Rose at the Parts Works, I ordered replacement oiling wicks, oil cups and a few other bits. The belt tensioning rod was repaired with a modern galavanized turnbuckle. I opted to watch eBay for an original tensioning rod and turnbuckle and found a New Old Stock item which arrived and makes the lathe complete and original.

When I received the lathe, the original leather belt had been replaced with a modern composite rubber material , skived and glued. I opted to put an authentic leather belt in place, and lace it using the instructions as found in How to Run a Lathe, 1944 (which I found at a used book shop for $7.50). The leather belts found on eBay or other sources are very expensive, $50 to $100. I looked around for a local source and found a saddle maker nearby. In his humble, rustic workshop, he knew just what I wanted and very quickly sliced a 1 inch wide by 5 foot length strip of leather from a whole side of cow. He also was able to supply a length of round lacing which he said was "goat gut" and tougher than leather lacing. (My daughter, who loves farms, and horses and leather goods, came with me to the saddlemaker shop. She remarked that my leather belt did not smell as she expected since much of what was in the shop was untanned/untreated leather. So what would you expect a side of cow to smell like except a cow?)

The Motor

The Hoover electric motor is older than the lathe by several years, even if the patent date of 1937 can't be accurately used to date it. In general, the housing, bearings and field windings were in good shape. But the original cloth covered rubber wires that led up to the field coils were in bad condition, cracked and bare. I rewired the motor and replaced the cable between the drum switch and motor. I also opted to run the wire from the drum switch through the hole in the headstock end foot as can be seen in images of lathes of that era.

The motor itself was vintage so I took the time to restore it as well. It was badly scratched and peeling. The end housings were origianlly painted in a black "wrinkle-finish" and the centre steel cover with label was a gloss black. I was able to find wrinkle coat spray paint and it turned out quite nicely. The motor looks and runs like new.

The drum switch was scratched and stained from oil so I overhauled the switch, cleaned the contacts and sprayed the covers with a machine-grey enamel. The little red/burgandy coloured knob on the drum switch was dull and scratched. I polished it with toothpaste on a flannel cloth. I went as far as to fabricate/repair the correct original screws to hold the switch covers on. They were originally fillister head screws (2 of 4 were left) and 2 were replaced with pan head screws. Fillister head screws are hard to find now so I dug through my spare parts department and found fillister screws with the wrong thread. The correct threading die fixed that problem.

(As a curiousity, the motor-to-switch cable has a large red connector in the middle. I wanted to replace the cable with the same 6 wire type that allowed the 120VAC line to connect into the motor rather than the drum switch. At my workplace, there were obsolete connector cables intended to connect sea-going equipment and capable of withstanding seawater ingress to 100 metres below sea-level. So next time I want operate my lathe at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, I'll be ready.)


While reviewing the various original booklets (dated 1944) such as Oiling the Lathe and Setup and Leveling, there were several pictures of the Stanley high precision level in use. I thought it might be nice to find or borrow one someday to check my lathe during setup. A few months later, I was visiting my father-in-law. A plumber in his younger years, he has an assortment of tools, some quite vintage (circa 1900 steam fitters wrenches). Looking around his basement workshop, I noticed a solitary item stuck up on the foundation sill, with a bit of a chrome glow. Reached up and pulled down a Stanley precision level, lightly surface rusted but restorable. I dismantled and cleaned it up, then borrowed an electronic, high-precision level to calibrate it. I'm ready to level.

The headstock shims were salvagable. Upon reassembly of the headstock, I found that the clearance and end play were ideal, so no further action was required.

Beyond all reason

I could have left many things as they were if it were my sole purpose to make the lathe servicable again. But, some items on this lathe are now polished and glowing wereas they would have been painted over. The adjustment screws for the carriage gibs and tailstock alignment, and various other screws and nuts cleaned up so nicely that a little extra rubbing with a polishing compound made them glow. The shiny rims on the carriage and tailstock crank wheels and knob were a tarnished grey/black as is so often seen. I mounted them in my wood lathe and used polishing compound to bring back the shine. I completely dismantled the 4-jaw chuck, removing the jaw screws as well to clean to jaw slides. The cross-feed ball cranks had been wirebrushed (HORRORS!) to clean them up, leaving clear wire-bush marks across to graduation lines. Careful polishing improved them.

The first project is to make a tailstock dauber, the one item missing from almost all used South Bend Lathes.

After all is said and done, this lathe has survived neglect and several moves and is not much the worse for it all. I have taken the time to document its overhaul and take good pictures of it in the freshly overhauled condition. It is certain that it will never look this good again.... at least not in my lifetime. Maybe I will have a grandson that will admire and prize it as I have.

Where has it been?

It belonged to my grandfather (Harold E.(Harry) Spencer)who had it set up in his home workshop. He was a machinist by trade (who was lucky to survive while working on the Dartmouth waterfront repairing gas-engined motor launches at the time of The Halifax Explosion of Dec 6, 1917) and he went on to build up a substantial truck equipment and repair business. (Spencer&Richard,1919, then-Scotia Garage, Scotia Equipment), a business my father worked in his entire career (ret'd 1979) starting as a mechanic and ending as Vice-President. I worked there in the stockroom and later as an apprentice mechanic between 1969 and 1979 when it was sold to Phil Raymond & family. Now called Parts for Trucks in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I expect the lathe was bought by my grandfather in the mid-50's when he built a new home with workshop. He got it cheap or maybe free since he would have known many people in the business. It was damaged (looks like it was backed into by a truck) and several parts were repaired or fabricated but nothing that caused misalignment of the lathe.

I first laid eyes on this lathe as a boy in the late 50's, early 60's. I was facinated by mechanical things of all kinds from a young age, and this machine was special with its levers, cranks and pulleys even though I had no idea what it was or how to use it. I would be thilled to watch "Grandad" turn a simple piece on it and hoped someday I could run it too.

When my grandfather died in 1969, his workshop tools (for some reason) were part of his "estate" and ended up at the Scotia Equipment repair shop. Fortunately, I did get many of his tools, tap and die sets, the original booklets and papers from the lathe. Since I worked at the repair shop in the 70's, I would see the lathe, either mostly unused collecting dust or being used by a heavy-handed truck mechanic to repair a small fitting. It didn't see much care or oiling during that time. In about 77/78, my dad was ready to retire and sold the business (much to my annoyance-I had hoped to carry on the family business, but was too young and inexperienced to take on such a company). The lathe soon disappeared and my dad asked about it but didn't get answers. It had been moved for awhile to another shop that was an extension of Scotia Equipment so Dad was told it was being used and he couldn't have it. I had given up on ever seeing it or owning it. Besides, having viewed the use it did get by untrained hands, I expected it would be beaten-to-death before I got it. Move ahead 25 years. My dad passed away and 2 years later at a funeral for another relative, Phil Raymond arrived and I asked him pointedly, "What happened to Grandad's lathe?". He admitted it was in his basement workshop, he used it little and maybe I should go get it. Next day, my brother brought his pickup truck and we went to get the lathe, still complete and original with the change gears and enough tooling to do some hobby work. AND it was firmly mounted on a sheetmetal covered steel framed bench which also came home with me along with a home-built wall rack to hang the spare change gears and tools . I FINALLY had Grandad's lathe.

October 2012