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Ames Lathes - USA
   Ames Millers   Ames Triplex Multi-Function Machine   Photographs
Ames 1940s to 1960s   Circa 1835/80 Ames Chicopee Lathe
Although no Operator's Manual was ever produced for Ames lathes, a collection of interesting Sales Catalogues is available. Please email for details

When Bliss Charles Ames opened his machine-tool works on Ash Street in Waltham, Ma. in the late 1890s, he was joining an exclusive club of manufacturers* who, though they produced relatively few machines, made a significant contribution to improving the standards of quality and precision employed in American manufacturing industry. Amongst Ames's fellow high-class machine-tool makers* in Waltham were Stark, the American Watch Tool Company, The Waltham Machine Works, Wade and F. W. Derbyshire.
Ames quickly became well-known (as the B.C. Ames Co.) for a range of very accurate machine tools and precision measuring equipment; they did not produce a huge number of machines - not only was the specialised marked for precision bench lathes and millers relatively small but competition fierce. In the early 1920 an average of just one hundred No. 3 lathes were being produced each year, a number that fell to a low of only two or thee at the height of the depression in the early 1930s; sales picked up to nearly fifty a year during the middle to late 1930s followed by an explosion in growth during the years of World War 2 when, if the serial numbers are to be believed, as many as 806 left the factory between 1942 and 1943. The entire range of No. 3 and EH3 Bench Lathes, Bench Millers, Slotters and Shapers were all made until 1957, when production of the lathes only appears to have been continued using dual Stark and Ames branding - the catalogs from that point on (if not the lathes) carrying the names of both companies.
Today the Ames brand  name lives on in the precision engineering field being used on high-quality measuring and inspection equipment.
*Makers of precision bench lathes included: *Levin, Bottum, American Watch Tool Company, B.C.Ames, Bottum, Hjorth, Potter, Pratt & Whitney, Rivett, Wade, Waltham Machine Works, WadePratt & Whitney, Rivett, Cataract, Hardinge, Elgin, Remington, Sloan & Chace, W.H.Nichols, Crystal Lake and (though now very rare) Bausch & Lomb, Frederick Pearce, Van Norman, Ballou & Whitcombe, Sawyer Watch Tool Co., Engineering Appliances, Fenn-Sadler, "Cosa Corporation of New York" and UND..

Ames 83/8" x 21" precision bench lathe 1900 - 1930
The small bench machine illustrated above, typical of an Ames lathe, was available with a complete range of screw and lever-feed slides, different tailstocks, various quick-release collet fittings for the headstock spindle, relieving and milling attachments and special accessories for production engineering.
Like many other Precision lathes the Ames' 3-step cone pulley had its smallest diameter by the spindle nose - so allowing the front bearing to be increased in size and surrounded by a greater mass of supporting metal.
Unusually, the spindle carried  two rings of indexing holes around the larger of the two pulley flanges - and a further ring of holes around the smaller flange designed to assist in the removal of chucks and collets, etc., from the spindle nose.
Although the beds carried serial numbers, Ames claimed that any headstock, bed and tailstock combination would line up accurately, so allowing the easy transfer of specialised production equipment from machine to machine within a factory.

Broaching a hexagon collet using a rack-feed tailstock.
Broaching is a fairly unusual process to carry out on a small lathe but it is perfectly possible, given sharp tools and some care, to make a success of it.
The indexing holes which equipped the headstock of the Ames (and many other lathes) were, of course, an essential part of the procedure.

Drilling acetylene torch nozzles with the Tip Drilling Attachment

The Three-bearing, 2-step pulley headstock model in use at the L.S. Starrett works in Athol, Mass. where over one hundred similar Ames bench lathes were employed.

Once a commonly available accessory for small lathes, the tailstock-mounted indexing turret was a simple and economical way of producing small batches of components.
An ordinary screw-feed tailstock barrel would have slowed the process up more than somewhat, but if lever or rack-operated, and with light work, respectable rates of production could be achieved with very simple tooling.

"Half-open" Tailstock in use in conjunction with a two-toolholder lever-feed cross slide.

Six-station, hand-indexing Turret  and Lever-action Cross Slide.
The indexing plunger by the rear pulley flange is clearly visible.


Section through an early Ames bench-lathe headstock.
The headstock was available in two sizes (but of the same centre height) to take collets with a maximum capacity of either 5/8" or 1" with spindle bores of 3/4" and 1
1/8" respectively. The collets could be of either the draw-in type, or closed by a lever mechanism.
The hardened spindle was machined from a solid bar of alloy steel, case hardened then ground and lapped. This method of production produced a spindle which was hard on the outside but "soft" within - and consequently extremely tough.
The outside of the spindle front was ground to a 4 degree taper onto which faceplates, chucks and the larger sizes of step collets and their closers could be drawn. The inside of the spindle nose was ground to an 11 degree taper to seat and close collets.
The cast-iron headstock bearings, oil-grooved and finely lapped, were parallel on the inside and tapered on the outside. Adjusting nuts, acting on square-section threads, drew the bearings into tapered seats within the headstock casting and compressed them concentrically.
The combination of a hardened steel spindle running in cast-iron bearings was a proven method of obtaining long life and cool running; the spindle end thrust was taken by a ball race, positioned immediately behind the spindle nose, and carrying an adjusting ring to limit end play. The location of the thrust bearing, immediately behind the chuck on the "end" of the spindle, was unknown on any other lathe of this (precision) type.
The larger of the pulley flanges carried  two rings of 60 and 72 indexing holes, with a further ring of larger holes around the smaller flange which designed to assist in the removal of chucks and collets, etc., from the spindle nose.
Later Ames lathes followed the lead of Wade in fitting their bench lathes with precision ball-bearing headstocks - the lathe illustrated here is so equipped..

3-jaw chuck showing the backplate with its tapered seat which drew onto the 4 degree taper on the outside of the headstock spindle.

"Step chuck" with its external closing adaptor.
Step chucks were used to hold diameters larger than the headstock spindle would admit. They were made of cast iron and  supplied with a 1/4" hole drilled through the centre.
To use them, the face was turned out to a suitable depth and diameter to accommodate the workpiece, which was then tightly gripped as the collet was drawn back against the closing ring. They were made in 2" and 4" diameters for both the 5/8" and 1" capacity headstocks.

The Three-bearing, 2-step pulley Headstock was designed for production work. An extension at the left-end of the headstock carried a third bearing which supported an integral, quick-action collet opening and closing device.
The device was intended to overcome the inherent tendency of collets to draw work backwards when they were tightened, making it difficult to obtain exact depth setting on repetition work. In this design the collet remained "stationary" whilst, ingeniously, the headstock spindle moved forwards and backwards to tighten and release it. The mechanism was foot-operated, so leaving the operator's hands free to manipulate the compound slide rest, or other attachments, and feed material into the collet.
2-step pulleys were also used on other examples of precision bench lathes adapted for production work, including those by W.H.Nichols and Bausch & Lomb

End view of bed showing the double ring of 60 and 72 indexing holes on the spindle-pulley flange.

Slide Rests & Attachments

The Ames Compound Slide Rest, a substantial affair which weighed 16 lbs, had finely made feed screws of 0.354" diameter, with milled threads of square form running though bronze nuts.
The top slide could be swivelled through 50 degrees either size of zero and the 4
5/8" diameter base was clamped by two screws engaging with a circular T slot in the 3.75"-travel cross slide.
Whilst the top slide has the usual generous amount of travel for this type of lathe (5.5"), the cross slide was limited to just 3.75"
The micrometer dials, with bevelled edges, could be zeroed but, like many other lathes of the time, were far too small, being just over 1" in diameter.

Lever-action cut-off or "forming slide", used to part off, or turn work to the "form" of a cutting tool.

A special compound slide rest with a lever-action top slide and designed for delicate work where sensitivity of feel over a limited tool travel was required. The slide is shown in action below.

Traverse-spindle Grinding Attachment, so called because the spindle (being held in the hand) was free to slide in its bearings. An overhead pulley drove the spindle and the rope drive, twisted in this case to reverse its direction of rotation, can be seen wrapped round a pulley in the middle of the shaft. In the illustration above a small hole is being finished in the end of a hardened rod with a diamond lap - the spindle being run at between 10,000 and 12,000 rpm.

Traverse-spindle Grinding Attachment mounted on the top slide

Outside Grinding Attachment

Swivelling Vertical slide with partially-hidden indexing unit.

Cutter Relieving Attachment

Tailstock for supporting grinding work.

Stands & Drive Systems

As with other makes of precision bench lathe, the Ames could be driven by a conventional wall or ceiling mounted flat-belt drive countershaft unit, the layout drawing for which are at the bottom of this page, or fitted to a 48" long, 25" wide and 36" self-contained and rather elegant cabinet with a 3-speed gearbox. The stand was sturdily constructed from oak with a top surface edged with hardwood and covered in thick linoleum - an early form of plastic flooring very familiar to an "earlier generation". Two cast-iron uprights carried a cross member in hardwood on which was mounted the speed-change gearbox and, optionally, a drive for grinding and milling attachments carried on the lathe's top slide.
A 0.5 hp motor was fitted in the left-hand compartment, behind two doors, and the stand was either cut away on the right-hand side to allow space for the operator to sit down whilst working - or fitted with a nest of drawers. The motor drove upwards to the gearbox, the front of which was removable; inside the casing were three sets of constantly-meshed helical gears, running within an oil-tight bath and each fitted with a heavily-built steel friction cone clutch that allowed an instantaneous change of speed. The drive from the motor entered from a 7" diameter pulley on the lower shaft and passed, via the gears and clutches, to an upper shaft that carried a cone pulley to match that of the lathe beneath it. Unusually for a countershaft of this era, the shafts ran on double-row ball races whilst the clutch thrust bearing was also of the ball bearing type.
Controlled by foot pedals, the clutches were connected by wires to the engagement mechanism.
Later stands were built on heavy, pressed steel legs with linoleum-covered, hard-wood faced wooden tops and used an underdrive system with either a 3-speed gearbox or a mechanical infinitely variable-speed unit.

Early Ames No. 3 lathe on the oak cabinet stand with 3-speed gearbox drive

By the 1930s the No. 3 lathe was mounted on the AB1000 stand with heavy pressed steel legs and a much more compact and efficient 3-speed gearbox drive system.

Standard two-speed countershaft as offered from the earliest days of the Ames Precision Bench Lathe.
Described as being of the "Wall Rod" type this unit was designed to overcome the limitations of traditional countershafts were the wall brackets also formed the supports for the pulley spindles. The system relied upon two 1-inch diameter cold-rolled steel bars set 4 inches apart that connected together two cast-iron wall brackets. The castings that held the self-aligning bearings for the 3/4"-diameter ground finished pulley spindle were separate units and could be easily and independently slid along the bars until the drive and driven pulley were in line with their respective mates both above and below. In the picture above the two pulleys to the left are both of the "tight and loose" (UK fast-and-loose) kind where one pulley was free to rotate on the shaft (the idle pulley) and the other fastened to it (the drive pulley). By operating a foot pedal the machine operator could cause a striker rod on either the larger (7") or smaller (5") pulley to flick the belt across from idle to drive and so change the speed from a high of 720 rpm to a low of 160 rpm. Despite some makers offering an interconnecting control that pushed one belt back  onto its idle pulley before moving the other, Ames appears not to have offered this refinement on their countershafts. Although the unit could be used as a stand-alone fitting it was really designed to be connected together in multiples along one wall - all joined by long steel rods - and drive a number of lathes and milling machines from one power source. The countershaft
As an alternative, a "three-speed" countershaft was offered that gave the same high and low forward speeds as the ordinary unit plus, by means of an additional twisted belt, one reverse speed of 160 rpm.

The "3-speed" countershaft with an extra fast-and-loose pulley to provide a reverse drive

For grinding and high-speed cutter work some means of driving at high speed was required and for this Ames offered the above attachment. It consisted of an extra pulley alongside the 3-step on the ordinary "Wall Rod" countershaft together with a pair of cast angle brackets (mounted on the top rod and a third rod above)  that carried a very large diameter "gut" round-rope drive pulley.

Never mind the lathe, look how it's driven ..
A schematic diagram to help the installation of an Ames lathe with an "instant-change" countershaft unit and ceiling-mounted electric motor.
The complexity, cost and time required to assemble and set up this type of drive forced manufactures to design compact, self-contained stands of the type shown at the top of the page - and which can also be seen in that used by Cataract for their bench lathe.

Chase Screwcutting

The Ames chase-type screwcutting mechanism

Like all other genuine "Precision Bench Lathes", the Ames could employ both the "Chase" and "Top Slide-with-Changewheels" methods of thread generation, the former system devised by Joseph Nason, of New York, who obtained US Patent No. 10,383 on January 3rd, 1854 for an "arrangement for cutting screws in lathes."  In the Ames "Chase" method a T slot, which ran down the back face of the bed, held brackets that carried the long "transmission rod" on which the cutting-tool slide pivoted and slid. A separate casting carried in the T slot held, in two vertical arms immediately behind the headstock, the Master Thread. The Master Thread was also known as a hob, or leader, and was available in a wide range of standard and special threads.
A "half-nut", held in the end of an arm connected to the "transmission rod", pressed on the Master Thread and transmitted its pitch, via an adjustable toolholder, to the workpiece. The interconnection of the cutter holder and the half nut allowed the nut to be lifted out of engagement and the cutting tool returned by hand to the start without stopping or reversing the lathe. A little additional depth of cut was then applied by adjusting the rest "stop", the half-nut rested back on the Master Thread - and the cut restarted. Unlike the tool slide fitted to the Wade lathe, which was an especially well-designed unit with the tool carried on a compound slide rest (which enabled both lateral and vertical adjustments of the tool position to be made), that on the Ames was a very simple affair with the tool held in an ordinary compression clamp. Whilst the chase system produced threads of an absolutely accurate pitch, and was especially suited to delicate operations on thin-wall tubes used to construct such items as microscopes and telescopes, the length of thread that could be cut, and the number of threads per inch or mm, depended upon the availability of the appropriate thread master - although in the case of the Wade additional gearing was provided to extend the threading range of each Master Thread by a multiple of 1 to 10. For instance, a 10-pitch master would cut 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 80 and 100 TPI. To use the attachment, the lathe was run in reverse for right-hand threads - with the toolholder moving from left to right. For left-hand threads the master thread and its nut were reversed, and the toolholder moved from right to left.
A very simple form of this screwcutting mechanism can be seen on the Goodell-Pratt Pages.

Cutting a thread with a traditional type of "Thread Chasing" Attachment

Above and the 4 pictures below: this 1940/2 Ames AM-1 was found, in 1990, in pieces, under a Prybill spinning lathe.  It will take 1" through the headstock, and uses 1-A collets and the headstock spindle runs on precision ball bearings which allowed a wider range of faster speeds to be offered.
The bed is 3 feet long, with a capacity between centres of about 22"; the swing is about 6". If anyone is using an Ames, please do get in touch.  (Photographs of the AM-1 by Brian Meek, U.S.A)


A common accessory on high-class bench lathes - a lever-action
tailstock fitted to a screw-operated cross slide.

A standard tailstock with lever control of the 3" travel barrel - by far the best way of feeling what is happening to small drills, reamers and taps, etc. The long handle multiples the reaction of the tool to its job and so gives vastly superior control in comparison with a screw-operated feed.

E-Mail Tony@lathes.co.uk 
Home    Machine Tool Archive    Machine Tools For Sale & Wanted
Machine Tool Manuals   Machine Tool Catalogues   Belts

Ames Lathes - USA
      Ames Millers   Ames Triplex Multi-Function Machine   Photographs
Ames 1940s to 1960s   Circa 1835/80 Ames Chicopee Lathe
Although no Operator's Manual was ever produced for Ames lathes, a collection of interesting Sales Catalogues is available. Please email for details