A different company to that founded by Bliss Charles Ames on Ash Street in Waltham, Ma. in the late 1890s, the Ames Mfg Co Chicopee, were known during the 1800s as a maker of swords and other weapons. Although little is known of Ames Chicopee machine-tool production, they must have been at the forefront of developments: an example of their gunstock copying lathe is in the London Science Museum and several versions of an early and beautifully-made 7.25" swing backgeared and screwcutting lathe have survived. Although dating the lathes shown here must be a matter for conjecture, with Ames Chicopee founded in 1810 and machine-tool production starting in 1835, they could have been made at any point from the latter date onwards. One wonders if the Ames Chicopee design had any influence upon the precision plain-turning bench lathe made by Stark in 1862 - a machine that enabled America to take the lead in the manufacture of such machines and as exemplified by Levin, Bottum, The American Watch Tool Company, B.C.Ames, Bottum, Hjorth, Potter, Pratt & Whitney, Rivett, Wade, Waltham Machine Works, Wade, Pratt & Whitney, Rivett, Cataract, Hardinge, Elgin, Remington, Sloan & Chace, and (though now very rare) Frederick Pearce, Ballou & Whitcombe, , Sawyer Watch Tool Co., Engineering Appliances and Fenn-Sadler the "Cosa Corporation of New York" and UND.
Although at a glance very similar, each Ames Chicopee lathe so far discovered has a number of significant differences, thus proving that a programme of steady development must have been in place and hance a reasonable number sold. Several design features and details stand out, some of which reflect contemporary practice while others show unexpected diversions from it (though of course, the features listed might not ally to all examples found). Interesting example include all the major castings in a fine-grain material with the "appearance" of being solid steel; a headstock with narrow, un-braced bearing posts (common at the time) secured not by studs and nuts but screws with thick, slotted heads, a fine thread and set in counter-bored holes; adjustable bronze spindle bearings; nuts were all of the more costly flanged type and obviously all fasteners were made by the lathe maker - there being no known standard and, in any case, most with different thread diameters and pitches - though the most common appears to have been 1/4" x 20 t.p.i.. To ensure nothing was mixed up, where an assembly used more than one fastening, the head of the screw and its location were stamped with a corresponding number - an essential if labour-intensive activity. One example of a non-standard fastening was the bolt used to secure the tailstock to the bed; this appeared, upon initial inspection, to be 1/2" x 20 t.p.i. but, turned out to be 0.470" x 20 t.p.i. - might this have been intended as 15/32"? The full and varied list of fastening on one lathe comprises: 3/16" x 26 t.p.i.; ¼" x 24 t.p.i.; 5/16" x 20 t.p.i.; 3/8" x 20 t.p.i.; 25/64" x 18 t.p.i. (nuts that hold the changewheels in place); 7/16" x 18 t.p.i.; 15/32" x 20 t.p.i.; 13/16" x 12 t.p.i. spindle nose and 0.391" x 12 t.p.i. Square-form thread on the cross-slide and tailstock feed screws. Another area of hand fitting and assembly involves the tumble-reverse gears, these and their mounting studs all being number stamped with the flanged securing nuts being supplied in three different sizes - none of which have any form of modern thread.
Other features included an unusually wide, beam-type gapless bed with ways that ran past the front and back faces of the headstock so allowing the carriage (with its long, equally proportioned wings) to bring the cutting tool up to the spindle nose; a carriage traverse handwheel mounted on a large-diameter round boss that contained a set of reduction gears inside that engaged the bed-mounted rack to give a fine and steady feed to the hand feed (a system that was very unusual at the time when a quick-action, awkward-to-use crank handle would have been expected). The cover, instead of being a simple, prosaic affair was made from a casting of the very finest grain and appeared to have been either gun blued or treated to some contemporary but now unknown "slow-to-rust" finish.
Instead of a full compound slide-rest assembly with both a cross and top slide, all versions of the lathe (common at the time) had just a cross slide with the original toolpost appearing to have been one with a screw-feed height adjustment.