Turning a 1942 lathe into a functional piece of art

A couple of years ago, [macona] picked up a 1943 Monarch 10EE lathe. This monstrous machine is not only an amazing piece of engineering but an awesome work of art; not only can this lathe manufacture parts with exacting precision, it’s also a wonderful piece of machine age design.

The Monarch 10EE lathe was extremely high-tech for its time, and the War Dept Detroit Ordinance District tag on the cooling pump bears this machines lineage: this lathe was most likely used to make very precise military equipment such as the Norden bombsight.

After 60 years of faithful service, [macona]‘s lathe picked up several coats of paint in different colors and generally fell into a state of disrepair. [macona] spent a great deal of time overhauling this lathe by replacing a bent feed rod, troubleshooting the motor problems, and eventually replacing the whole motor with a modern AC brushless servo. You can check out the improvement the AC servo made in a video after the break.

Of course no post about a rebuilt lathe would be complete without a few beauty shots. We’re extremely thankful for [macona] for not only restoring this machine, but also for sharing it with us. Thanks to [macona]‘s restoration, this machine will hopefully be around for another 60 years.

Comments

  1. HAD says:

    Thanks to [macona]‘s restoration, this machine will hopefully be around for another 60 years.

    Unlike most of the junk “lathes” produced overseas in places that don’t care about quality and are sold for $2000 – $4000.

    • Cyril says:

      Huh? You get what you pay for. ESPECIALLY from places like China :/

      It’s not like you can buy a domestically produced lathe that isn’t junk for that money either. But you know that right.

    • n0lkk says:

      The lathes you are speaking of most likely aren’t the lathes being marketed to manufacturers who will be using the lathe in production. The chances are pretty good the lathes that manufacturers purchase will be lasting as long. The lathes market to home shop owner maybe. Depending on the use it sees. I have read those who have purchase the inexpensive tools write they expect a reasonably long life from them if one disassemble the them to clean out cheap lubricant and debris left from manufacture, and put in quality lubricant in. The manufacturer could do that, but it could raise the price to where it wont sell. People would buy them if the manufacture would advise buyer to do what those who now use them tell us to do. All academic for me because I’ll never buy a metal lathe. No more turning I’d need done one could pay for itself.

    • n0lkk says:

      Not that I don’t like the red color, but most of the machines I have seen machine shops are for the most part are green. While stuff like this will always be to much for my bank account I don’t mind reading about those who can have it, are getting.

  2. HAD says:

    Also, his machine was built in 1942. It is 2012. That machine is near 70 years old now.

  3. Nic says:

    That is one beauty!

  4. FrankTheCat says:

    Funny thing is, Monarch lathes have remained essentially unchanged since 1942.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.

  5. Chris says:

    I must admit that I was terrified at first when I read the title of this article; I had visions of a perfectly good lathe (or at least on that a little restoration work would make so) being destroyed for some art-tech project. Instead I see gorgeous work done here. Well done!

  6. pinkertron says:

    haha “turning”

    Good one, had!

  7. zaprodk says:

    Absolutely beautiful lathe, and great work done on it, well done!

  8. Johnny O. Farnen says:

    Dear god it makes me want to turn some gun barrels or something.

  9. Alex says:

    We have one at work with a big vacuum tube variable speed drive. Currently non-working, though we’d like to fix it at some point. It’s a very nice piece of machinery.

    • Galane says:

      Replace the old power sucking vacuum tube controller and motor with a modern drive system like the one in this article and that’ll put the told lathe into “fighting trim” to go back to work beside the newer lathes.

      • ladzhari says:

        Exactly. I hear about guys wanting to preserve that funky system, but it doesn’t make any sense. Always wanted an old Monarch 10EE. I’ll find one with a dead drive system. One of these days!

      • Chris says:

        Vacuum tubes are power hungry compared to transistors, yes, but compared to the amount of power that the machine itself consumes, the inefficency of the tubes is insignificant. There are good reasons to replace them with a more modern controller, but energy cost is not one of them.

    • macona says:

      The forum over at Practical Machinist is the to-go place to find out how to fix it. The tube drives (WIAD or Modular) were incredible for their time, they were used until the end of 82. The tube drive was great since it ran off single phase 240v, the solid state drive that replaced the modular tube drive required true three phase to work. No phase converters today. Modern 10EE machines from Monarch use a VFD and a large motor, 10-15hp to give enough torque at low ends.

      Of course my servo conversion is leaps and bounds better than a VFD. Full torque at all speeds.

  10. My neighbor just restored a very large 1960’s french engine lathe (a few years ago) and a surplus mill from an aircraft manufacturer.

    Even with the high wear from 4 or 5 decades of use, it is apparently a much higher quality machine than newer units with better ability to hold tolerances at a fraction of the cost, even including the cost to refurbish.

    Another old guy I know has been helping to restore some old german airplanes. He says that our best CNC milled reproduction components aren’t as good as those turned out during the war, and that it’s becoming a bit scary to try and find decent metal alloys to make parts with.

    I suspect we will soon start seeing a dramatic rise in domestic aircraft accidents caused by use of chinese parts and sub-assemblies.

    I’m guessing Honda has pretty much reached their zenith, and that they represented the high water mark of mass-production and quality. Newer Honda vehicles are starting to run into the same problems with quality, materials and design that GM had in the 1970’s.

  11. Garret says:

    its been about a year since I used my lathe, but last I checked, it was manufactured at around 1920, but in 1930, it had a new forward and reverse switch installed from the Furnas Electric company, and minus that, has had no parts replaced or repaired since. I was using it last year to turn acrylic pens, but before that it was milling parts for my grandfather and my great grandfather, mostly metal bits for his shop.

  12. macona says:

    Here is a newer and better photo of the lathe:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/67292116@N00/4010206475/in/set-72157624795989972

    And,, yes, I do use it. After doing a bunch of delrin guides for work at Laika.:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/67292116@N00/7294074780/in/photostream

    Try this again, I have since replaced the 2kw motor and drive with a 5kw servo that I had lying around:

    Parting some 4″ aluminum:

  13. kuhltwo says:

    My grandfather used machines like these during the “War”. He had a smaller lathe at his house that he taught me some basic things, like how to true up a 4 jaw chuck. Not bad for a 12 y/o.
    I prefer all the older tools, even older HAM radios.

  14. p3p3 says:

    its an amazing engineering piece and a pretty piece of art but, its most like a foot lathe or was a pioneer in wood lathe?

  15. Fritoeata says:

    You simply cannot beat a 10EE for rigidity. I have an old one at work with a speed controller upgrade and DRO. It’s a great to work with!
    There is a reason the old ones fetch a high price.

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