email: tony@lathes.co.uk
Home   Machine Tool Archive   Machine-tools Sale & Wanted
Machine Tool Manuals   Catalogues   Belts   Books  Accessories

Elgin Lathes & Millers - USA
Elgin No. 4 Lathe   VM-5 & VM-2 Millers 
Elgin HM-5C Miller
Possible Elgin Factory Lathe

A 76-page full-range catalogue circa 1920/1930 with screwcutting
charts and details of other Elgin products is available


Long known for specialising in precision machinery, the "Bench Precision" lathes shown on this page were manufactured by the Elgin Tool Works, a company in competition with such makers as: B.C. Ames, Wade, Pratt & Whitney, Rivett, Cataract, Hardinge, Elgin, Hjorth, Potter, Remington and Sloan & Chace, etc.
Started by one Albert A. Hasselquist (a immigrant of German decent), the Elgin Tool Works began production of their classic precision bench lathes in a small workshop during 1900 in the town of Elgin, Illinois. While details of how the Company developed during the first three decades of the 20th century are unknown, its assets and name may have been acquired, during the early years of the Great Depression, by Hardinge Brothers for, when they too fell into receivership during 1931 (to be bought out by the
Morrison Machine Products Company; of Elmira, New York), a new Chicago-based Company, the Hardinge Mfg. Co., was established with a new lathe works next to the Hardinge oil furnace business. The lathes manufactured were not of the Elgin type, but almost identical in design to former "Cataract" models but branded as Elgin. Hence, Elgin machine tools must be divided into two eras: pre-Hardinge and post-Hardinge. As late as 2007 the original Elgin Tool Works building, a long narrow corner affair running north-south, was still standing on Route 31 (south of the I-90 Northwest tollway) on the west side of the street.
Sales literature of any year for Elgin is rare, but an early 1920s publication shows a wide range of bench lathes and attachments, all based on a common bed and not dissimilar in general design to others of the type made by American firms (for example, with their flat-topped, bevelled-edged beds, the compound slide rest and other accessories were often readily interchangeable between makers). Two basic models of Elgin were available, the
No. 4 and the No. 4x5. Both shared the same bed (cast as-one with the feet) with a centre height of 3.5 inches - though the No. 4 (which weighed 100 lbs and admitted 16 inches between centres) was fitted with a lighter headstock having a though-collet capacity of 7/17 inch and a 3-step pulley with diameters of 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 inches to take a 1-inch wide belt. Although the heavier headstock of "4x5" (the lathe weighed 110 lbs) caused the capacity between centres capacity to be reduced by one inch, it allowed an increase in collet capacity to ". Both lathes had headstock spindles made from hardened and ground tool steel running in lapped double conical bearings of the same material (with angles of 3 and 45 degrees behind the nose) and a split conical bearing at the rear to allow an adjustment for wear. Thrust was taken against a hardened steel washer trapped between the front face of the pulley and the back of the front bearing, a pusher nut against the rear of the pulley being used to set the clearance (this arrangement allowed the spindle to expand freely as it warmed in use). So reliable was the headstock assembly that, once settled in, tolerances remained constant for many years (if not decades) of hard use. The 3-step pulley of the "4x5" had diameters of 2.75, 3.75 and 4.75 inches, took a 1.25-inch belt and was held to the spindle by a full-length key. As was usual with this type of lathe, the end flange of the largest pulley diameter was provided with a circle of 60 division holes - though not all competitors also provided the four larger holes through the front face by which means a pin could be inserted to help with the locking and unlocking of collets (a fitting that also preserved the accuracy of the indexing holes through misuse for the same purpose...). In order to ensure absolute concentricity, the spindle socket was ground in place once the headstock had been secured to the bed and, unlike the models made by many competitors, nose of the Elgin was not threaded as standard (though this option was eventually to be offered) but instead deliberately made so that fittings mounted on collets had to be used - a sure way of ensuring the greatest possible accuracy. In addition to the expected range of collets, a very wide range of accessories was offered that allowed the lathes to be adapted for grinding, milling, sawing, dividing, planing, slotting, precision vertical filing and screwcutting. The last process was able to produce, with the 20 or so changewheels supplied, a range of pitches from 8 to 200 t.p.i. And, with the addition of 100/127 translation wheels, metric pitches from 0.5 to 20 mm. The arrangement of gears differed between the Model 4 and Model 4x5, as did the mounting bracket and associated hardware.
A wide variety of stands was available, from simple single-mount types (some with neat, underdrive motor systems) to ones designed to industrial use and able to accommodate four or more lathes driven from a common overhead countershaft-cum-motor-drive system.
During the 1930s, like the similar models from Hardinge and Stark, the lathes were modernised, made more rigid, increased in capacity and fitted to neat, self-contained underdrive stands with V-belt drive and control of speeds by the simple juxtaposition of levers at the base of the headstock together, in some cases, with 2-speed motors. 
By the 1930s the spindle design had been changed from the traditional plain-bearing type to high-precision, pre-loaded ball bearings, an arrangement that was not only cheaper to produce, but just as accurate and long lived; it also had the benefit of allowing higher speeds to be maintained (usually from 230 to 3900 rpm) without fear of the bearings overheating. The collet capacity was increased to 1" with, as before, either screw-operated or lever-action closers being available - in the latter case with ball bearings rather than bronze sectors used in the rotating part of the mechanism.
A proper turret version of the late-model Elgin was also produced (designed for the repetition manufacture of small components), together with a number of simple but high-quality vertical and horizontal milling machines, including the models
VM-5 & VM-2 and  HM-5C
If any reader has background information on the structure of the Elgin company or its products, catalogs or other sales or technical literature, the writer would be pleased to hear from you..

Circa 1940 Elgin 9-inch swing by 17 inches between centres precision bench lathe on the maker's enclosed, variable-speed underdrive steel pedestal stand. Running in pre-loaded ball races, the spindle nose could be had a ground thread or with the Hardinge-type quick-release taper and could take 5C collets with a though capacity of 1 inch. Spindle speeds ranged from 120 to 3780 rpm (all without needing to alter any belt position) and, being driven by a 2-speed, 3/4-3/8 h.p. 3-phase motor, were directly reversible. Heavily built for so compact a lathe it weighed a not inconsiderable 1375 lbs.

Circa 1940 and identical in specification to the model offered on the all-steel pedestal stand, this version of the 9-inch swing Elgin variable-speed, precision bench lathe was mounted on a more tradition type of stand. 60 inches long and 30 inches wide, the top was in laminated wood, with a maple top, supported on cast-iron legs - the assembly being intended for use by a toolmaker who might need to have part-finished jobs, tools and other items to hand on the bench top.


9" x 18"  "Elgin" Precision Turret Lathe of 1941 set up for production work and complete with coolant equipment, a lever-action collet closer and a  full compliment of collets mounted on the right-hand door.

9" x 18"  "Elgin" Precision Plain Lathe as sold during 1941. This model had drive by V-belts from a countershaft mounted inside the cabinet stand.

Late 1930s early 1940s Elgin precision toolmaker's lathe

Early 1930s Elgin with ball-bearing headstock on the then-popular type of open stand with a laminated wood top covered in beech or maple

A 1930s Elgin machine tag showing ownership belonging to Franklin Harding's 1931-established Hardinge Manufacturing Co.

A rare Elgin No. 4 x 5 from the 1920s

Early 1930s Elgin with independent power to an overhead drive

Elgin accessories--single and (very rare) "No. 16" twin-spindle milling and grinding heads on vertical slides

The massive size of the special super-precision ball-race headstock bearings are clear from this picture

An unusual fitting for a precision bench lathe--a completely independent drive for an "overhead" - to drive toolpost-mounted milling and grinding spindles


Elgin No. 4 Lathe    VM-5 & VM-2 Millers  Elgin HM-5C Miller
Possible Elgin Factory Lathe


A 76-page full-range catalogue circa 1920/1930 with screwcutting
charts and details of other Elgin products is available

Elgin Lathes & Millers - USA
email: tony@lathes.co.uk
Home   Machine Tool Archive   Machine-tools Sale & Wanted
Machine Tool Manuals   Catalogues   Belts   Books  Accessories