W.F.& John Barnes was founded in 1872 and became especially well-known for their range of foot and hand-powered wood and metal-working machinery. Their metal-turning lathes were invariably, but not exclusively, of the lighter, treadle-powered type in the 9" to 13" range and were often derided in their home country as being of the "farmers' type". However, this was an unfair put-down, for those Barnes seen by the writer were all well constructed of good quality materials and performed, having regard to their specification, in a most satisfactory way.
Today, the idea of using a treadle to drive a lathe seems very strange but, before the advent of widespread electrical connections and inexpensive generating plant, it was a convenient (and healthy) way of powering small - and not so small - machine tools in remote locations. Naturally, the "treadler" was often a long-suffering apprentice or other assistant - and one cannot pretend that it could have been much fun. Professional machine shops in such areas, where they existed, usually employed a stationary "gas" engine to turn line shafting which could be employed to drive several machine tools at once. Of course, once you had your Barnes treadle lathe, you could contemplate building a small engine to drive it, and sets of casting to make them were very popular during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Judging by the numbers surviving, the most popular Barnes was the lightweight No. 41/2 (with a 4.5" centre height). Unsuited to employment in a general engineering shop, this little lathe nevertheless contrived to bring versatility and usefulness to many farm and home workshops where its excellent built quality enabled it to absorb endless misuse and neglect. The No. 5 was also popular and, having a 5.5" centre height, a T-slotted boring table and a proper compound slide rest, was more useful for general work. Any foot-powered Barnes larger than the No. 5 is comparatively rare - machines of that size would have been expected to perform on a professional level - though the company did offer a proper "engine" lathe, the No. 18, that appears to have been heavily built with a deep bed and wide, flat-belt pulleys on the headstock spindle.
Having sampled the craft of "treadle turning", the writer can report that it quickly becomes a salutary lesson in the need to keep cutting tools sharp and correctly set. Any attempt to rush a job, or increase the rate of feed beyond what is reasonable, is met with instant, fatiguing feed back - and one quickly learns to reduce the amount of turning required to the very minimum. A surprising amount of energy can be absorbed by the drive to the leadscrew and the leadscrew bearings themselves; careful assembly and checking for free rotation of each component on the drive pays dividends on any small, low-powered lathe, treadle-powered or not. In common with many other makers of lighter lathes, many of the Barnes models were available with raiser blocks to lift the centre height an extra 6" or so.
The examples illustrated below represent the more common types produced by the company over the years - the range was large, and constantly evolving with many unrecorded detail changes made during production runs (the unusual twin-leadscrew version is shown here)
Can a Barnes lathe still make an effective work tool today? A reader writes:
I acquired a WF & John Barnes #13 lathe. I did not buy it to restore it as the antique that it is, but to make it usable for my projects as a viable piece of equipment to my workshop. At the time I really didn't know how old it was, but knew that with a little help it would fill my need for a medium-sized lathe. After some close examination I was also able to discern that, even though old, it was in pretty good shape! It had been sitting idle in a heated garage for more than 25 years and appears to be fairly "low mileage" - or at least it was never used for production work. The spindle bushings were still tight and the ways were still tight and straight.. It is dirty, OILY, and cruddy looking, but it runs very sweet!
It was retrofitted with an electric motor many years before I got it and still has the ancient motor that was fitted to it. I have retrofitted it with brass drip oilers for the spindle bushings, a large beefy new 3-jaw scroll chuck with reversible jaws, and an Alouris QC tool post. It is greasy and oily, but definitely a workhorse.
I have run it for hours and hours on end and it doesn't complain. I actually find it to be a descent piece of equipment and quite usable for a machine as old as it is - mu guess being around 100 years plus..