15 July 2019

Hope you like to read…

I have the parts needed to rebuild the Grizzly 13 x 36 lathe, but couldn’t move it because my brother was using the engine hoist. The idea was to rebuild it, making a custom stand with a set of real drawers. The thing is, after all the work and expense, it wouldn’t be worth what I’d put into it, so I was hesitating.  At the same time, I was on a metalworking forum thread that had a thread about a really cool yet somewhat-obscure lathe, designed by Takisawa, built in Taiwan, and imported by Webb and others. Turns out that a forum member who owns one lives locally, so I went over to check it out. It’s a 2500-lb beast—a “real” lathe—and while the same size as the Grizzly, is twice as heavy and much more heavy duty due to having a one-piece casting that includes the legs. Most importantly to me, the owner said that out of the dozen or so lathe brands he’s owned over the years, he’s keeping this one—that statement carried a lot of weight with me.

The tipping point came when he later forwarded me an ad for one, and not only was it very local*, but also very affordable. To make a long story short, I bought it, a Webb/Takisawa TSL-800 14 x 30 lathe, manufactured in 1978. The downside is that it only came with a chuck and a so-so quality quick-change tool post. Lacking were many of the usual accessories such as a four-jaw chuck, tool holders, collet closer, collets, taper attachment, steady rest, and follow rest. The most bothersome thing, however, was it not having any change gears, necessary for cutting threads. These came as a set with the lathes, always included, but weren’t there, and is unfortunately a common story. I think it’s due to the lathe being one big casting; the 2-speed 5 hp motor consumes the inside of the left leg, and oddly, the right leg is empty, but with no door or shelf. Because of this, nothing can be stored in the lathe, so owners are left to store everything elsewhere, where it’s eventually forgotten about and often thrown out. The seller had purchased the lathe new, so they should have them. The catch is that they’ve moved twice before, which may spell doom for the gears. The shop is in the process of moving a third time, and as the lathe was being loaded onto the truck, I asked about the gears one last time, this time to an older employee. He said that he remembers seeing them in a wooden box, years ago, and would keep an eye out for them during the move. We’ll see.

The lathe was fully assessed once it got home. It’s amazingly dirty, and while it was expected to see dried oil and dirt in the usual areas, this one’s more evenly dirty everywhere. It’s almost like it had been somewhere with an aerosol form of oil/adhesive/paint floating around. If it was just oil, I’d expect WD40 on a rag to remove it. Whatever this stuff is, it’s really on there, and so far I’ve used up 1.5 gallons of acetone, the only thing that can remove it. The original paint color is battleship gray, which I kind of like. Under that is body filler over a bright orange primer coat. There’s a story here, as well: owners of this model theorize that the factory got a bad batch of body filler that never cured (or maybe they never added catalyst?), and worse, over time it loses adhesion with the underlying primer coat. As a result, both the filler and gray paint come off in patches, leaving bright orange areas. Before I started cleaning, I was planning to tear it down for paint. As cleaning progresses though, the embattled look is kind of growing on me (think of it as a “rat lathe”). The decision to leave it as-is is strengthened by an owner who tore his down for paint, saying later that dealing with the Bondo dust and paint made him wish that he had never started. And then there’s the sump…

Being a real lathe means that it has a coolant sump and pump setup. The central area where chips collect has a grate and screen at the bottom to allow coolant through into the sump. The grate and screen had long since clogged up and been covered by chips. The seller said they hadn’t used coolant in years, so it seemed like a non-issue. Yes, well… I took the screen off and what I saw and smelled defines description. Actually, I can, I just hope you aren’t eating: imagine being told to clean out a portable toilet with just gloves and paper towels. Yup, kinda like that. Moving on, once that’s done, since coolant won’t be used, the pump is coming off and a blanking plate sealed in place of the drain screen. In addition, the entire electrical system is being removed in anticipation of running exclusively on a Variable Frequency Drive. The one that’s on the way has a power switch, direction switch, and speed control built-in, so it’s pretty much plug-and-play.

Somewhat related, the brake pedal doesn’t work other than turning off the motor, which then coasts. With a large chuck spinning at high speed, stopping takes a long time—now I know why. I thought that the brake lining had just worn out, and perhaps it had, because the shop had removed it completely. That actually worked in my favor since it helped negotiate a lower price. The brake pedal switch will be wired into the VFD to activate electronic braking, which allows retaining the physical pedal as functional.

Other issues included an oddly-cocked gear lever on the quick-change gear box. I couldn’t understand why the lever wasn’t aligned with the labeled panel positions, yet seemed to work, so I wanted to remove the cover to see what was going on. Removing the cover, however, meant removing the levers first. One came off fine, but the split pin in the other would budge. I eventually figured out that someone or something had forced the lever and doing so had partially sheared the split pin, misaligning the holes and making it impossible to remove. That answered the alignment question, so the only answer seemed to be to force it further until the pin sheared completely, while hoping that it could still be slid off the shaft, which it thankfully could be.

There are also several damaged/destroyed ball oilers. Hopefully they aren’t too hard to find replacements for, just have to measure the bore and assume that they’re metric (update: they seem to be imperial size…). I saw a suggestion somewhere to drill them oversize so fractional inch units could be swapped in. That’s all fine if the lathe is completely torn down, but if it not, it gets chips into all the worst places.

It may sound like a lot of issues, but I enjoy the journey. Nothing serious has been found, all the gears and bearings look and feel great, and all the issues have so far either been resolved or at least figured out.

A couple other tidbits: In today’s dollars, this would have sold for approximately $16,000, which is believable. I’m considering whether to make a wheeled stand for it. Due to its weight, moving it is a really big deal, and being able to retract the feet and push it around is tempting. Lastly, since Grizzly is mentioned up top, here’s an upbeat video about the history of the company and its founder: https://youtu.be/eBQk1WmXpm4. It’s neat to see that with hard work, and even when starting out with no money, it’s still possible to become a success.

* If you are considering a lathe, mill, or some other heavy piece of equipment, be sure to factor in moving it. The first place I called quoted $700-1000 to move it three miles. The second place charged $280, so the amount can be a big part of any “deal” you find. The alternative is to rent a heavy equipment trailer. It’s specially built for the job, heavy duty, and the trailer bed drops straight down to ground level instead of tipping. Because I didn’t have the time, or a way to move it onto the trailer, I elected to pay to have it moved, but next time, I’d consider moving it myself.