Antique Whitcomb Mill in SF Bay Area, $1200 ... (photos)

Antique Whitcomb Mill in SF Bay Area, $1200 ... (photos)

Joined: July 10th, 2016, 2:02 pm

August 27th, 2017, 6:06 am #1

There is a place called Urban Ore, on Folger avenue (Folger is a two-block alley that runs parallel to Ashby street) in Berkeley California. Their business is that when someplace is being closed, or torn down, or whatever, they pay a nominal fee for the privilege of going in and breaking down the building for bits first. They take fittings and parts and windowframes and doors and toilets and tubs and tools and inventory that didn't sell, etc. Then they turn them around and resell them to builders or contractors or renovators or the general public.

They're also in the thrift-store business, accepting donations of whatever people are casting off and selling it second-hand.

As such, you really, REALLY, just never know what's going to show up there. One of my all time favorites was a coffin that had been rebuilt as a barbecue smoker. (I guess the guy got well or something?)

Anyway, I wandered through there today, and I discovered this lovely antique: The sign I didn't quite get a decent focus on says "Do not touch. This machinery is very heavy. Please ask for assistance." Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Your curious hands are not going to damage this machine. But that wooden pallet cart it's on could overbalance or collapse, and then it would probably crush the rice cooker.



Anyway, it's not what a modern machinist would call "very" heavy. This type of machine is maybe a couple of tons, at most. You could move it with a heavy pickup truck if you can get it into the bed. It won't be as vibration-free as a modern heavy mill.

This was a feeling of very strong deja vu for me because my granddad had one of these mills, still running off a jackshaft across the top of his shop. The whole shop went to a museum when he died; it was one of the very last of that old-style ceiling shaft shops. This one's in a bit rougher shape than granddad kept his in, but to be fair it is about forty years later and it looks like this one's been in production work the whole time, not in a museum.

Somebody's done a very light makeover here to refit an electric motor to this one, but the electric motor is actually running its very own tiny short section of the missing jackshaft; the mill itself still runs off the original type of canvas belt.



Exposed gears on the left end.



Feeds, Speeds and threads per inch table. I intended to get the blue tape in the image but I guess I didn't; The full text is "works but bearings are starting to go." There's also the remains of a small improvised oiling system on the back that looks like it got bashed when they were moving the mill and will need repair or replacement, but I didn't get a snap of that.



And I haven't seen one of these plates before. I guess maybe Smith, Booth and Usher were the dealers who originally sold it? Or someplace that serviced it along the line? Or something?



So anyway, if you happen to be on the left coast, have space in your shop for a genuine antique from a nearly forgotten era of machining which is also still a perfectly serviceable mill, and you have $1200 burning a hole in you pocket and confidence in your ability to repack some bearings, bring a pick-up truck to Berkeley and talk to the goth girl behind the counter at Urban Ore.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

August 27th, 2017, 9:08 am #2

'Couple things there: Mainly, that's a lathe, not a mill.

And yeah, the thing's on a rolling cart, not bolted down, and because of the overhead assembly, is very top-heavy. Yeah, I'd have a warning sign on it too. And probably have it strapped to a nearby pillar to keep it from toppling, too.

The overhead conversion, by the way, is likely at least partly factory. Which would date the machine to somewhere as early as the late teens to the mid thirties, as small motors were rapidly becoming available, and it was easier to individually power each machine.

The cast-iron pillar on the back is the clue there- likely an add-on by the factory to "modernize" the lathe. They didn't have to alter the main castings of the machine, but were still able to add a self-contained drive assembly that still ran the original belts.

And, it's not actually all that big. Hardly a "couple" of tons, I'd bet it hardly breaks half a ton. It's still plenty if it tips over on ya, but anyone can move it about with a typical engine lift or even a sturdy A-frame and a chainfall.

I don't know what they mean by the bearings are starting to go- that's an old plain bearing machine, and it's easily possible for them to be going bad. It's just that it usually takes a fairly knowledgeable hand to determine that. I suspect they have somebody on hand that's an old-machine enthusiast, considering the old-fittings-and-junk nature of the business.

However, $1,200 is absurd. That thing's worth $300, tops, most places, and if the bearings are bad, it's worth even less than that. One does not 'repack" babbit bearings, one has to melt and repour them. Not a task for the faint of heart.

The one benefit to the price is that it's less likely for some jackass to buy the machine, strip the legs off to make some "shabby chic" table out of, and junk the rest.

Doc.

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Joined: July 10th, 2016, 2:02 pm

August 27th, 2017, 5:58 pm #3


Doh! The adult part of my brain, had I looked at it and asked myself what it was, would have known that was a lathe. But the ten-year-old kid in me who remembered it from my granddad's shop didn't. I should have looked it over with more critical eyes before I wrote.

I'll admit to no practical experience with machinery of this size and era. All my work is on a CNC mini-mill (XYZ table type) and one of the reasons I wouldn't consider it is my lack of expertise with working this stuff by hand. Now I have to go look up "Babbit bearings" and see what's special about them.

If that's the kind of thing the factory did to "modernize" their jackshaft machines, I'm surprised. It seems like a silly way to do it. Tho I guess it makes sense if you've decided you have to turn out the old-style and upgraded machines on the same line and make the upgrade strictly by adding parts instead of changing anything.

And it's disappointing to hear the voice of experience give it a $300 value. I don't doubt it, but but but.... yeah, that's the ten-year-old kid remembering the magic of granddad's shop again, or the visitor to the museum appreciating the history of things. To a practical machinist, things are different. And there, I'm sure your expertise exceeds mine by orders of magnitude.
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Joined: July 10th, 2016, 2:02 pm

August 27th, 2017, 6:24 pm #4


http://www.wikihow.com/Pour-Babbitt-Bearings

The more you know....

Yeah, sounds like a significant investment of time and effort.
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Joined: June 28th, 2017, 11:03 pm

August 27th, 2017, 6:25 pm #5

Doh! The adult part of my brain, had I looked at it and asked myself what it was, would have known that was a lathe. But the ten-year-old kid in me who remembered it from my granddad's shop didn't. I should have looked it over with more critical eyes before I wrote.

I'll admit to no practical experience with machinery of this size and era. All my work is on a CNC mini-mill (XYZ table type) and one of the reasons I wouldn't consider it is my lack of expertise with working this stuff by hand. Now I have to go look up "Babbit bearings" and see what's special about them.

If that's the kind of thing the factory did to "modernize" their jackshaft machines, I'm surprised. It seems like a silly way to do it. Tho I guess it makes sense if you've decided you have to turn out the old-style and upgraded machines on the same line and make the upgrade strictly by adding parts instead of changing anything.

And it's disappointing to hear the voice of experience give it a $300 value. I don't doubt it, but but but.... yeah, that's the ten-year-old kid remembering the magic of granddad's shop again, or the visitor to the museum appreciating the history of things. To a practical machinist, things are different. And there, I'm sure your expertise exceeds mine by orders of magnitude.
Like Doc says, Babbitt bearings have to be poured in place and THEN scraped to final fit.

The shaft that the bearings are to run against are incorporated into the casting process, albeit covered with soot to prevent the metal adhering to the shaft.

Almost a lost art these days - I've never seen it done in person, but have seen the process illustrated in the restoration of antique tractors.
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Joined: March 8th, 2004, 11:48 pm

August 27th, 2017, 7:47 pm #6

http://www.wikihow.com/Pour-Babbitt-Bearings

The more you know....

Yeah, sounds like a significant investment of time and effort.
There are plenty of YouTube videos explaining how. And you can buy the metal from RotoMetals -https://www.rotometals.com/babbitt-bearing-alloys/
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

August 27th, 2017, 11:31 pm #7

Doh! The adult part of my brain, had I looked at it and asked myself what it was, would have known that was a lathe. But the ten-year-old kid in me who remembered it from my granddad's shop didn't. I should have looked it over with more critical eyes before I wrote.

I'll admit to no practical experience with machinery of this size and era. All my work is on a CNC mini-mill (XYZ table type) and one of the reasons I wouldn't consider it is my lack of expertise with working this stuff by hand. Now I have to go look up "Babbit bearings" and see what's special about them.

If that's the kind of thing the factory did to "modernize" their jackshaft machines, I'm surprised. It seems like a silly way to do it. Tho I guess it makes sense if you've decided you have to turn out the old-style and upgraded machines on the same line and make the upgrade strictly by adding parts instead of changing anything.

And it's disappointing to hear the voice of experience give it a $300 value. I don't doubt it, but but but.... yeah, that's the ten-year-old kid remembering the magic of granddad's shop again, or the visitor to the museum appreciating the history of things. To a practical machinist, things are different. And there, I'm sure your expertise exceeds mine by orders of magnitude.
Babbit bearings aren't "special", they're basically the precursor to modern roller bearings.

The simplest "bearing" is simply two relatively hard, smooth surfaces with some form of lubricant between them. Back in the day, that was anything from wood-on-wood, to wood-on-cast-iron, iron-on-iron, iron-on-steel, etc. Usually, as long as there's a sufficient supply of lube, the bearings lasted for years.

Of course, they refined that over the years, eventually discovering that a semi-hard soft metal, like alloyed lead, was an ideal bearing material. It could be cast-in-place, leading to easier manufacturing, it could be cast using the shaft itself as a mold, making a near-perfect fit, and was soft enough that any debris that got into the lube would embed in it, and not scar the shaft.

But today, rolling-element bearings allow for far higher spindle speeds, closer tolerances, better acceptance of thrust forces, are easier to install, and more importantly, easier to replace.

As for the overhead linkage being a 'silly' way to do it, keep in mind the old adage "we stand on the shoulders of giants". It seems "silly" to us today, because we know of better, more compact and more efficient methods. Back then, they didn't know- machines were driven by overhead belts. They were designed to take a belt from overhead, that's just how it's done.

It was a natural evolution to then put the motor lower, then behind, then underneath, but it took time. We didn't go from the old 'candlestick' phones straight to cell phones- there was a natural course of evolution in between.

And, doing it that way, as I said, let the manufacturer convert the lathe without also having to modify the rest of the castings (an expensive proposition) or change how the castings were machined (also expensive.)

And finally, as for value, the sad fact is there's no "collectors" market for old machine tools. Nobody will pay money for it because it's old- indeed, you'll be lucky to get somebody to pay money for it despite being old.

Machine tools are only seen as tools- a device owned and used simply to produce work, parts or repairs for other things. As such, a machines' value is very strongly dependent on if it can, in fact, be used, and used accurately.

If somebody wants a working lathe, $1,200 can get a decent import that's ready to plug in and play. The older machine- especially an obscure model like that- has only as much value as it would take to get somebody to buy it instead of the import. Which, these days, is pretty cheap.

It is, of course, entirely possible they'll find somebody who wants it as both a project in itself (restoring it to good condition) and wants it as a working machine, and is willing to pay the premium over an import. Those sorts are out there, you just gotta find 'em.

Doc.
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Joined: September 12th, 2014, 4:00 am

August 28th, 2017, 2:04 am #8

When the industries were changing over from line shaft driven machines to individual motors, the change didn't happen overnight. A shop with an existing overhead shaft who wanted to add or replace a machine would be more likely to buy another shaft-driven machine than to buy a machine and an expensive motor. On the other hand, a new shop just starting up would be facing a huge cost to install a line shaft, so they would be more likely to buy a few machines with individual motors.

The point being, the manufacturer had to keep making both types for some time. It was easier and cheaper for them to just add a motor mount of some kind to an existing machine than it was to design a whole new machine. It was also cheaper to stock one machine and a motor mount than having to stock two versions of the same machine. With a bit of creative design, you could probably make the motor mount work for several different machines and lower your costs still further.
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Joined: October 9th, 2014, 11:59 am

August 30th, 2017, 12:27 am #9

'Couple things there: Mainly, that's a lathe, not a mill.

And yeah, the thing's on a rolling cart, not bolted down, and because of the overhead assembly, is very top-heavy. Yeah, I'd have a warning sign on it too. And probably have it strapped to a nearby pillar to keep it from toppling, too.

The overhead conversion, by the way, is likely at least partly factory. Which would date the machine to somewhere as early as the late teens to the mid thirties, as small motors were rapidly becoming available, and it was easier to individually power each machine.

The cast-iron pillar on the back is the clue there- likely an add-on by the factory to "modernize" the lathe. They didn't have to alter the main castings of the machine, but were still able to add a self-contained drive assembly that still ran the original belts.

And, it's not actually all that big. Hardly a "couple" of tons, I'd bet it hardly breaks half a ton. It's still plenty if it tips over on ya, but anyone can move it about with a typical engine lift or even a sturdy A-frame and a chainfall.

I don't know what they mean by the bearings are starting to go- that's an old plain bearing machine, and it's easily possible for them to be going bad. It's just that it usually takes a fairly knowledgeable hand to determine that. I suspect they have somebody on hand that's an old-machine enthusiast, considering the old-fittings-and-junk nature of the business.

However, $1,200 is absurd. That thing's worth $300, tops, most places, and if the bearings are bad, it's worth even less than that. One does not 'repack" babbit bearings, one has to melt and repour them. Not a task for the faint of heart.

The one benefit to the price is that it's less likely for some jackass to buy the machine, strip the legs off to make some "shabby chic" table out of, and junk the rest.

Doc.
A correction, better lathe than never (n/t)
-- Change is inevitable, except from vending machines
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