by John

I decided to buy another metal lathe.  For a few years I have been using a Chinese heavy duty machine, a GBC,  which was 1000mm between centres and a swing of 400mm.  It is a heavy duty machine, weighs 2 tonnes, and does its job.  For turning large objects, up to 400mm diameter, and taking off large amounts of swarf quickly, it is excellent.  But I must admit to a lack of pride of ownership of this machine.  Particularly after being exposed to British workmanship in my small Boxford.

So I had a look around, and settled on a Colchester Master 2500.  It is less than half the weight, and physically smaller, although the work dimensions are similar to the GBC.  I persuaded SWMBO that if I sold the GBC, the small Taiwanese lathe, and the 2 Smart & Brown lathes which I had restored (see earlier posts), I would just about break even, have more space in my workshop, and there would be less stuff for her to get rid of if I happen to cark it at some inconvenient time.  Also, the Colchester should not be difficult to resell.  It has an excellent, almost legendary, reputation, and as I discovered, commands high second hand prices.

This process was actually jogged by seeing a Colchester on ebay which was of interest.  It was cheapish, no bids, and the photos were awful quality.  So I rang the owner.  He had bought the lathe 3 years earlier, but had never used it because he did not yet have 3 phase power.  The owner before him had used it to make hinges or something similar, as a backyard industry, and before that it had been in a school.  In my experience, school lathes tend to show little wear, but often show evidence of crashes.  The owner sent me photos of the bed, which did show dings from crashes, but nothing terrible.

So, full of optimism, I hooked up the tandem trailer to the old Landcruiser and drove the 250km to the other side of the state.  To cut the story short, the lathe looked OK, but when I removed the gearbox cover, first the oil was old, black, and thick, one gear had a tooth missing, and another was severely worn.  I took the owner at his word that he did not know about this condition (possibly correct), thanked him for his time and went home.  It had been a pleasant drive.

(note added 23 June 2015.  The seller is still advertising his lathe, same price, no mention of the broken and worn gears.  I am inclined to think less charitably about someone who would let a buyer drive 500km and not be honest about the item being sold.)

Next stop was a machinery second hand dealer.  They had 7 Colchesters, from a University workroom closure.  They were much more expensive, had been nicely cleaned up, had all of the chucks, steadies, tool holders, manuals etc.  I did seriously consider one of these, which had a few dings on the bed, but otherwise looked good.  I decided to sleep on the decision.

Next day, I visited two more ebay sellers with Colchesters.  I have racked up about 800km looking at possibilities.  The first was from a factory close down.  It was dirty, old, and had only a 3 jaw chuck.  Despite its industrial past, it showed little visible evidence of wear.  But the reversing handle would not stay engaged.  No big deal according the owner, just a spring to be replaced.  Hmm…..    The price was OK, but not negotiable.  I would think about it.   Quite tempted with that one.

Then a tollway trip to the other side of Melbourne.  My last option.  In case you were wondering, this plethora of Colchester lathes is very unusual.  I have been looking for this model for about 2 years, but have never seen more than one Colchester Master 2500 advertised within striking distance at one time.  So having 7 or 8 to examine has been fantastic and unusual.  Maybe everyone is wanting CNC these days.

The last one was an ex Department of Defence machine.  It was midway in the price range, but negotiable. I could not fault it.  It was tight, no dings at all, had clean oil in the gearbox, gears all intact, and had a full range of chucks, faceplate, tool holders, steadies etc.  No manual.  Needs a repaint.  Probably 25-30 years old.  (note added 23/6..   more like 45 years old!) Being DOD, it would have been fastidiously maintained.  So what was the catch?   I could not find one.   I negotiated a lower price, and shook hands.

Next to pick it up.   Then to sell my existing lathes.

Watch this space.