New Lathes for a New Year


January 31, 2010

Yours Truly with the new Hardinge 37 (credit: Mike Cohen)

Making ferrules is one of my favorite parts about building rods. In all of the steps from start to finish, it’s one of the ones that I enjoy the most, one that rarely, if ever, feels like actual “work”.

For most of my career I’ve made my ferrules on a lathe that dates back to before World War I, an old Pratt & Whitney. I didn’t keep it around for any obvious nostalgic purpose, but more because it just seemed to work well year in and year out. It’s maximum rpm wasn’t very high, and it tended to throw off a little bit of oil which was sort of messy, but other than that there really wasn’t a ton to complain about, which sort of makes sense. At heart a lathe is actually an extraordinary simple machine, and many of those that were created during the American interwar and postwar eras were marvelous pieces of equipment. I’m not the only one who thought so; I know a number of rod and reelmakers who still use lathes that date back 70, 80, or 90 years. And until recently I was no exception.

It took me a while to work up the gumption to finally start considering an upgrade. I didn’t want anything that was excessively fancy, I told myself, just something that would allow me to do what I already do a little more efficiently. Instead of having to take three or four passes to get ferrules down to the right OD, I wanted a lathe that could do it in two, or even one pass. I didn’t need a ton of electronic gizmos or want an excessively complicated machine that would take me five years to figure out how to use really well.

When I began looking around, I quickly realized that you can easily find yourself down the proverbial rabbit hole when it comes to acquiring machinery. Rodmakers are, necessarily, part-time machinists, but I quickly realized that there is a whole world out there of people who are fanatically devoted to machining, and that within it there are even subcultures of folks who are devoted to particular types of machines, including lathes. In a sense I wasn’t completely surprised. I guess it’s a little like people who are fanatically devoted to bamboo fly rods, but at least with fishing you get to traipse around a lot out of doors.

At any rate, I finally settled on what I thought was a reasonably good machine, an old Hardinge that was in very good shape. It was a basic benchtop lathe, but with more oomph and more versatility than what I’d previously had. So I bought it. Problem solved I told myself. Then I got a phone call about another lathe that I had looked at much earlier, a Hardinge HLV-H which, frankly, had been out of my price range. No one else had bought it, the guy said, and he needed it moved by Friday. Did I want it? Geeze, I thought. It was still a pretty expensive piece of machinery. I told him that my lathe budget wasn’t huge, and then made him an offer. I’ll call you back he said. To my surprise, he told me that if I could come pick it up in the next two days, then he would take the offer.

A Hardinge HLV-H (credit: evershedm via flickr)

To make a long story short, both Junior and I are pretty excited about this acquisition. It’s a little beyond what we probably would have looked for ourselves, but as Junior keeps reminding me, this was essentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we would have been crazy to pass it up.

The other thing, and part of what really sealed the deal for me, is the fact that some of my favorite ferrules in the world were cut on early precursors to this type of machine. An old rodmaking friend of mine confirmed that a Hardinge was what many Payne ferrules had been cut on, and I’d always admired the way that those ferrules went together just like butter. The precision is as good as any ferrule that I’ve ever seen. That was enough for me.

So needless to say I’m pretty excited about this acquisition. I already enjoy making ferrules, and I think that I do a pretty decent job of it. But I also think they’re going to be even better from here on out. The longer that I have this machine in the shop and the more time I’ve had to really go over it, the more impressed I’ve become. It’s an absolute beauty and I can’t wait to start putting it through it’s paces.



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