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Cant Bros Lathe

For a woodturner, obviously the most important machine is the lathe!  And, its the machine that started me down the slippery slope of collecting antique machinery.

My vision was always to produce really large turnings.  So a BIG lathe is required.  However all modern candidates were well over my budget.  

After a long search, I settled on a Cant Brothers lathe, made in Galt, Ontario around 1880.

The previous caretaker of this one  was retired pattern maker, who sold it on the condition that it never be sold for scrap metal (sadly, all too often the case).

cant 1
cant 2

After restoration and selected improvements it is the most used machine in my workshop. I hope it will provide me with another 100 years of service.

During its 125 years of service, this lathe has likely gone through many changes and configurations.
​Some of my recent ones are listed below.

cant 5
cant 4
cant 3
cant History 2
cant History 1

A little history

It was a very generic Post & Beam lathe, like many others of its generation.


But, by good luck, it outlasted many of its siblings.

According to the pattern maker, it never left the Cant workshop. Over the next 80 years, it stayed with the firm, through various corporate acquisitions and amalgamations, eventually ending up in a pattern shop of Canadian Machinery Corp.

Note: it is not a true pattern lathe, since it lacks any kind of cross slide and lead screw set up.

When I bought it, it was underpowered by a 1 hp, 1ph, 220v, 1750 rpm motor.  

I quickly changed it to 3 hp, 3 ph on a VFD.  Speed control is essential when turning large pieces.

After stalling too many times, I tried a 5 hp, then 7.5 hp.

Great, but 1750 rpm was too fast .  I was still stalling because I had to turn the VFD down too low.

I've settled on a 5hp, 3ph, 8 pole motor. So it runs at 880 rpm.  Its a real stump-pulling brute of a motor.  I think of it as a Hemi V8.

Great power, awesome low-end torque for large bowls.  I can finally run the VFD at 60 hz and use the the transmission in first, second and third gear.

cant motor 1
cant motor 2
cant tranny 4
cant tranny 3
cant tranny 2

Speed Control
Yes, it really has a transmission!
I believe its a Borg Warner T-90, 3 speed from a Willy's Jeep 

This allows some rough speed control and will transmit more torque than I can create.  

​The largest ratio is about 3:1.

So with the VFD at 60 hz, I can get as low as 150 rpm.  Top rpm is still unknown.  Since I only use solid wood blanks, I keep the revs fairly low.

Fine speed control is via a Delta 7.5 kw VFD.

Other changes - various solutions have changed significantly over 125 years:

  1. Clamps for the banjo and tailstock: used to be rods and large handwheels.  These have been switched to large cam clamps with 500 lbs clamping power.  Much easier to use.

  2. The flat belts for the drive system were long gone.  Its all modern v-belts now.

  3. Dead centres for the tailstock.  Before the advent of highspeed bearings, the tail stock centres were smooth and did not spin.  This eventually burned the wood (unless oil was periodically added).  These were switched out for modern Live Centers from Oneway

  4. Chucks - originally everything was held by drive spurs or faceplates.  I gave up on drive spurs long ago.  I still use faceplates to start large pieces.  But modern chucks are much simpler and easier to use.   (I use the Oneway Stronghold with great success.

Idiosyncrasies of old lathes

Bearings: there's ball bearings in this at all.  Everything is babbitt bearings.  Any they may be original.
It does require adding heavy oil periodically, but drip oilers really make this simple.  Just turn them on when starting and off when finishing.  There is some extra oil dripping down the headstock, but it never get on the work.

Weight: Everything is VERY heavy.  The tailstock is about 200 lbs.  Sliding that around takes brut force.  The banjo is 50 lbs and the clamp requires a hard push.

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