Britannia 1920 screw-feed lathe

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Britannia Lathe and Oil Engine Company

I have a new toy to play with. It’s nearly 100 years old but it is in incredible condition.

Getting it running, so I can use it to make suspension and steering components is going to be ‘fun’ or should I say ‘a challenge’.

Sorry but I have been diverted off the car (sort of) for a week or so.

When I bought it, I had no idea what make or model it was, as they are quite rare. Indeed, I had to naughtily extract a whole website with over 27,000 images on, to find a matching picture.

It’s actually a 4 ½” x 30″ gap bed lathe made by the Britannia Lathe and Oil Engine company between 1920 and 1930. The factory closed it’s doors in 1938.

Originally, it would have been treadle operated (similar to this Video of a restored Britannia Lathe), but this one has been converted, a long time ago, to a ½hp 240v single phase motor.

It was advertised on fleabay with a load of accessories, such as belt driven bench grinder and dozens of cutting tools. It came complete with loads of cogs for changing the automatic feed or screw-cutting pitch.

The reason for buying a lathe is simple. I had the choice of spending lots of money paying somebody else to make parts for my car or to buy an old lathe and make the bits myself. It worked out cheaper and more convenient to buy a lathe.

I have 2 x unique mushroom adapters to make for the front uprights, 18 crush tubes for the A-Arms, unique steering rack extensions, a steering linkage, Brake discs to machine, caliper adapters and parts to enable me to finish welding up my MT75 to Rover V8 gearbox conversion. – That’s just in the immediate future.

I didn’t pay top dollar, for this lathe so I wasn’t expecting an awful lot when I collected it. However, it was instantly obvious that the bed was top quality and in very good condition. So good, you’d say there was no way it was 20 years old – let alone nearly 100!!!

This lathe will receive a partial restoration. I won’t go over board as this is meant to be a working lathe. Anywhere things are worn, I’ll try to replace parts, any specks of rust will be wire brushed but I’m not going to go overboard. – I have a car to build.

My excitement was short lived. At first, I didn’t quite know how all the cogs meshed together but I soon noticed one of the main cogs was missing teeth and that there was no way two vital cogs could mesh together. It had obviously been put together wrong.The thinking cap was put on. There was a dial shaped object on the headstock, however it had been painted over and didn’t pull, push or turn. Even if it could turn, all it would do is enable you to remove cogs right? – Wrong.

I’m embarrassed to say, I took the mole grips and a rubber mallet to it. After a couple blows, the dial slightly moved, the paint cracked and with the aid of extra leverage, I got to dial to turn properly. A wrong screw had been fitted and a spring was jamming on a worn spot.

It turns out the dial was connected to a hidden concentric shaft, that when rotated, enabled the cogs to mesh.

Hey Presto! I was happy again. An hour or two of making a couple new parts, a splat of weld, and a wire brushing, saw the shaft rotating freely.

I now have a slurry tray to make, pulleys to mount on walls and lots of bolting down. When that’s all done I’ve got re-wire the motor, make a couple belt tensioners etc etc.

Once it’s all working, I’ll keep an eye on the auctions for a right angle mount, along with rotary and compound tables. I’ve seen a couple of cheap looking ones but nothing descent at the right money.

The purpose of these is to turn this lathe into a horizontal milling machine.

Britannia Lathe Screw Feed

Britannia Lathe Screw Feed Cogs

Britannia Lathe Grinder and Buffer

The buffer has seen better days!

For more history see these links:

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