Developed originally by Earnie Conover Senior and Junior as an adjunct to their wood-working hobby, the Conover wood-turning lathe was produced in a well-equipped, modern factory operated by Alpha Fabrication Inc. and marketed by the Conover Company, P.O. Box 418, Mentor, Ohio 44061 USA (phone 440 350 4545 conover-lathe.com) - though unfortunately it is now out of production. Being constructed on two wooden bed rails the design today might be considered highly unusual - however, this method of construction was once very common, and used not only for wood lathes but also simple, large metal-turning lathes. Many examples have survived from the 1800s and are often found to be "home-constructed" by isolated machine shops with their beds "plated" and iron brackets added to induce a little extra rigidity. The last wood lathes of this type to be widely advertised were probably the $15.50 11-inch "Chipper" and $38.13-inch "Progress" lathes in the 1929 Sears, Roebuck Wood Working Machinery catalog. The advantages of the design are considerable and for the amateur, or even professional turner, offer the opportunity to construct a machine to their particular requirements: the bed as can as long as desired (though some sort of mid-way support would sensible at longer lengths), the 3-speed, V-belt drive headstock can be mounted in such a way as to produce a bowl-turning lathe of great capacity and even two headstocks mounted back to back one for bopwl and the other for between-centres work.
Although the factory offered various types of AC and DC motors with either direct-drive or variable-speed control, impecunious and enterprising owners could always select a suitable ex-industrial 3-phase motor and run it from a home-made 1-phase to 3-phase converter - details of which can be found here. In the case of non-variable speed AC motors the makers offered a traditional style of rear-mounted V-belt drive countershaft intended to be hinged from a bracket (made by the owner from wood) at the back of the headstock.
With a swing of 16 inches (8-inch centre height) Conover had all its main components cast from 30 Gray iron with the complete set of castings (to fit on the bed rails) weighing 130 lbs. The headstock spindle was a sturdily constructed item with a generously-sized 1.5" 8 t.p.i. Nose, a No. 3 Morse taper socket and bored through 25/32" hole; it ran on Timken taper roller bearings and carried a 4-step, Poly-V, cast-iron pulley that was ringed round its largest diameter with 24 indexing holes. A pleasing touch was the inclusion in the accessory list of a draw-in adaptor that could be ordered ready-threaded to accept Myford, delta-Rockwell, Powermatic or Sears accessories. While a thin plastic or sheet-steel cover for the headstock belt and pulley would have saved the makers a good deal of money, they chose instead to use a properly-made one in cast iron. The tool rest was fitted with a quick-release, over-centre handle and the cast-iron T piece grooved along its top surface to allow the operator's thumb to assist with straight-spindle turning. An optional kit was offered that allowed the standard metal T-rest to be replaced by a wooden one of unlimited length - the tailstock being adapted as an end support by the addition of a threaded right-angle pin that screwed into a boss formed on its front face.
Mounting any sort of lathe is always a problem and Conover offered a pair of traditional-form, cast-iron legs weighing 73 lbs each. The legs were fitted with tapped holes in the feet for levelling screws and provision for fitting either two shelves or (as suggested by the maker) a box that could be filled with sand to further improve the mass and stability of the machine; the legs also looked as though they might have been useful to owners of antique metal-turning lathes whose machines had lost their original supports. If the legs were beyond the means of the owner, the Conover instruction book includeda set of plans for a pair of (sand-filled) plywood legs that the makers claimed would be just as effective - if aesthetically inferior.
Of the "Myford" externally-threaded type, the tailstock spindle (barrel) had a 1-inch diameter, 5 t.p.i. Ame-form thread and a No. 2 Morse taper; the outside thread left a good clear bore through which long-hole boring (gun-drilling) attachments could be operated. The tailstock base incorporated a machined boss that slid between the bed rails and the clamping arrangement was by a sturdy handwheel, threaded rod and T-clamp that provided a direct pull to the middle of the unit.
At a time when the number of well-constructed wood-turning lathes seemed to be on the increase, the Conover occupied a unique place as a successful interpretation of a very-old idea.
Should a reader has pictures of their Conover set up in an unusual or interesting way, the author would be pleased to hear from you..