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grouch 09-22-2005 08:22 PM

Leblond metal lathe advice?
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I have an opportunity to buy a used metal lathe for $1200. It's advertised as 18"x36", but surely that's a gap bed, right? It comes with 3 jaw chuck, toolpost, coolant pump, powerfeed and the gears are said to be smooth. It's 3 phase and the guy says he has another 3 phase motor to use in a rotary phase converter.

My experience with metal lathes is exactly 0. The only lathe work I've done is wood. Any advice on what to look for would be appreciated.

Attached is the only photo available.

Kevin45 09-22-2005 08:32 PM

Lathes are a handy item. Once you get it you will use it more than you think. LeBlond is a good lathe. If all the gears are good, not too much can go wrong unless a belt might go bad. At a Vocational school auction that Weimer and I went to this summer the metal shop was getting rid of equipment. Lathes were going for $2000 and up. It would be nice if you could get a collet chuck for it but that is something you could always get later on. Good find :thumbup:

grouch 09-22-2005 08:43 PM

Thanks Kevin45. I wasn't sure if it might be better to get a smaller new one instead of this hulk, but if I'm gonna play it might as well be with something visually impressive. :)

Is there much I can do to check it out without having it running, beyond looking for rust? Remember I don't know jack about a metal lathe. I don't even have a micrometer (yet).

83_Monte_SS 09-22-2005 10:09 PM

Good Lathe
That lathe can handle a piece of stock with a diameter of 18" and 36" long. As long as it's in good shape and hasn't been beat then 1200 is a great price. we just sold one that is about as old as that one for 1500 and we lost on it. If you do buy it go on ebay and look for the manuals, you should be abal to find them. And the older lathes are made better. Great find!!!!

grouch 09-22-2005 10:23 PM

I hadn't even thought about a manual for it, yet. There's so much I don't know that it's scary. Found this at least:
Looks like that company has an impressive history.

scholman 09-22-2005 11:19 PM


The easiest way to check the spindle of the lathe is to put a short piece of drill rod into the chuck sticking out about an inch or so. Then mount a dial indicator on the compound rest. Be sure the plunger ion the indicator is as close to the middle of the rod as possible and touching the outside of the rod. Zero the dial. Then by hand turn the chuck and see if the chuck runs true. If when you push or pull on the chuck the dial moves then you may need spindle bearings. This is not easy to fix but can be done if you try.

Then you can look at the ways of the lathe and see if they are worn by putting a straight edge on top of them. Just move the saddle to the far left and then place the straight edge on the metal parts that the saddle rests on. If you see light under the edge the machine will cut things with a taper.

Good Luck

Kevin45 09-23-2005 02:09 AM


There's so much I don't know that it's scary. a search in Hotrodders for "machinist sites". There was a thread on this quite awhile back. I posted a big list of machinist sites that cater to the home machinist more or less. Good reading and you can pick up some good pointers. Not really much you can look for other than make sure all the teeth are on the gears, make sure the saddle moves (the saddle being the part in between the headstock (chuck) and the tailstock (part with the drill chuck). You want the saddle to move freely. Also check for backlash. By this I mean crank the compound in. If you are standing in front of the lathe with the chuck on the left, the saddle moves left to right. On top of the saddle you have your compound. It will move front to back. Or at an angle if is set at an angle. To check the backlash turn it in about two turns, then slowly turn it back out. Watch to see if the compound move immediately or if the dial moves before the compound does. If it has real bad backlash then the worm shaft or the nuts may be bad or both. .010-.020 is not bad, but if you start getting .100 or more backlash, then try talking him down a little as some work is in order. Also grab the compound and pull up and down on the back of it. This will tell if the gibs are worn. The gib is a tapered steel piece about 6" long and a 1/4" thick and maybe 1/2" wide that fits between the dovetail of the compound and the saddle. The gib is what keeps the slop out of it. If the compound moves up and down either it is excessively worn or needs adjusted. As old as the lathe is , I would say worn. I can't think of anything else right now. After I get off of work tonight I will check in and if you have not found those sites, I will send them to you.


adtkart 09-23-2005 04:01 AM

That is not a bad price at all. I wouldn't consider buying a newer, smaller lathe in that price range. Chances are that it would not be any near the machine that that one is. If taken care of, they will last forever.

oldred 09-23-2005 08:21 AM

Grouch, Do all the checks mentioned and then make your decision based on cost of repairs needed if any. The size of the stock that thing will handle is a major plus and those things were built for heavy industrial use. All of the new lathes in that price range are Chinese and are usually junk when new so the used outfits can be a real bargain if in decent shape. While most problems on these old machines can be repaired it can get expensive so if this one does not check out good you might want to shop around since worn out sloppy lathes can be a real headache and good ones are not all that hard to find but that one looks like a good deal if in good shape. Also that rotary phase converter is the way to go because it will produce full power while the static converters, although cheaper, will only allow about 2/3 of full power.

Neil Hochstedler 09-24-2005 06:55 AM

For a first lathe, this is a pretty big one. I've been a machinist for 15 years and have needed something this big less than 10 times. Bigger is slower, in lathes. If you're turning a piece of 1" aluminum bar stock in this rig, you'll have it running at top speed, making chips very slowly. So if you're going to be turning smaller things, a smaller, faster lathe is the way to go. Also- tools and accessories for larger lathes command a larger price.
The previously mentioned checks are good things to do. A quick check on the ways (the inverted vees that the tool carriage slides on) is to run a thumbnail up the way from the bottom to the top. Pay special attention near the top. There's usually a spot near the top that doesn't rub against the matching way on the tool carriage. That should be unworn and your thumbnail should slide easily between the "working" and the unworked part of the way. If your nail hangs up in the transition, it's really worn and will turn a taper. It's fixable, but about as much work as a frame off restoration of a car. It's not worth doing for occasional use.
Also, nose around it and check for lubrication. If it's been well maintained, it'll have an oil film on the ways and on all the sliding parts. Check the gearbox lube level.
From looking at the pic-
Whoever put that front chain across the ways needs a reality slap.(Though it's prob just out of ignorance.) That's the most used part of the ways and they're dinged, guaranteed. It's fixable by hand stoning, but if the previous owner rigged it, count on the lathe being abused. The toolpost is a turret type, which is a toolpost used mostly for production. Production=use, use=wear.
Here's a good site to ask questions at: You'll need to register to post. There are people there with more specific experience with Leblonds than I. Be prepared for a vigorous discussion on new import vs old US made arn.
Learning how to use a lathe and then making stuff with it is a gas. And it's amazing what you can make on it. It can expand your ability to make things by a ton. I highly recommend it. Of course, as soon as you start using it, you'll want accessories, a Bridgeport, then a surface grinder, then CNC this and thats and on and on down the slippery slope....

grouch 09-24-2005 07:40 AM

Holy -- well, you know!! I hadn't looked at this thread since my last post and decided to check back just before going to look at the lathe. Tons of info to soak in, now! I'll have to print this out and go over it.


[Edited to add:]
Kevin45, I found those links you referred to. They're at
Thank you.

grouch 09-24-2005 06:40 PM

Update on the 18x36 LeBLOND lathe:

I came home without it, not because it doesn't seem like a good buy but because it's so massive. I drove my old pickup and expected to come home with the lathe. It probably outweighs my truck. The man has the service manual for it and that shows it as weighing 4250 lbs without the motor. My guess is that the motor would add at least another 300 to 500 pounds to that; it's a big one behind that vented door under the head end.

He was willing to follow me home with it *if* I had some way to get it off his trailer when he got here. I don't have any way of getting it off the trailer nor any way of moving it into my garage and no space for it if I could move it.

The massive 3 jaw chuck moves very smoothly to my untrained hand. I moved it back and forth and didn't feel or hear anything scary. The ways appear very flat with a groove running lengthwise that you can feel with your fingertips if you press through the grease. I didn't have a way of doing the test scholman described. All gears were lubricated. The man said he hasn't used it but watched and listened to it running before he bought it. He bought two at an auction and is keeping the small one. He says his brother is a machinist and checked them out for him at the auction.

The saddle moves smoothly all the way up to where the cutting tool can touch the chuck. The chuck has both sets of jaws and each jaw is numbered 1 through 3 in each set. One jaw is a handful. (Say that last statement out loud around someone without explaining anything). I cranked the compound in and back out several times and the backlash appears to be 100 gradations on the dial, consistently. The tool holder appears massive to me. It had two cutting tools stacked in it, one on top of the other. (To reduce chatter on big bites?) Nothing about the saddle or compound or tailstock was shakeable. I jerked upwards and sideways and tried gentle pulls both ways and didn't feel a tick or move. The tailstock has a Morse taper reducer in it.

There is a plate on the side showing 3 columns of gear lever positions and rpms. The lowest shown is 11 RPM and it doesn't get over 100 RPM until the bottom of the 2nd column. The thumbnail test found only the longitudinal groove previously described. There did not appear to be a change from worn to unworn across the ways. I did find a ding about the size of a pinhead where the chain had been, but it was far under the chuck and the saddle never reached it. Another plate down low on the head shows threads per inch and some other stuff. I didn't examine a third plate that's on it.

The man told me he put the heavy layer of grease on the ways to protect them. He said he kept it under roof and brought it out for me to be able to see it from the highway. I passed by his house a few hours after we talked and it had already been put away again.

The ads I saw for this are at
It has a large box on the backside with big cartridge fuses in it and a disconnect on the side that doesn't show in those photo ads. The button box sticking up from the top has start, stop, forward and reverse.

It would probably be a fantastic deal for someone with a machine shop, but, like I said, it's really too massive for my garage even if I could get it off the man's trailer. I had every chain I own in the back of my truck along with a couple of 8' 2x8's and expected to bring it home. I just didn't realize the size and mass of this thing.

grouch 09-26-2005 09:05 PM

A few more comments on that lathe...

I think I checked the wrong thing for backlash. It had one large handwheel for longitudinal movement and one small one for crosswise movement. If I'm reading things correctly, there was no compound. In any case nothing felt sloppy.

I found an interesting article: "In (Modest) Praise of Klunkers" that shows and describes a lathe in *much* worse condition but which still bored within .002" in 3". That really makes me wish I had room for the monster, even if I would feel silly turning a bushing or bolt in the thing.

Beenaway2long 09-30-2005 10:24 AM

Too bad you weren't closer to NY. I have a 13" LeBlonde that would be the NUTS for ya. Has all the tooling, Aloris rest, 220 SINGLE phase, 3 jaw, 4 jaw and face plate with dogs, Aloris knurling tool, cut off, boring bars, tool holders......
Then again, I also am selling my Bridgeport with TONS of tooling.

The machine part is relatively cheap. Wait till ya buy the tooling for any of these machine tools!!!! You'll have 2-3 times the machine cost wrapped up in tooling. Then you have all your measuring tools....

oldred 09-30-2005 10:41 AM

Been, Yep one thing leads to another, it's an addiction if you are doing it on a hobby level as it seems that old bugaboo "if I had this to go with that then I could do this" :) is always popping up. No doubt about it it's a whole separate game if doing it for a hobby and one machine like a lathe is only the beginning but my lathe and mill are my most prized tools and for someone who enjoys building/rebuilding his own gadgets and tools I highly recommend them.

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