Manufactured in the early 1980s by Little Gem Models of Unit 14/15 Central Works Site, Corby Workshops, Corby, Northamptonshire the "Little Gem Major" round-bed lathe, had a centre height of 5 inches, an overall length of 48 inches and a weight of 280 lbs; it was available as either a finished machine (to various specifications) or, at a saving in cost, as a kit of parts for home machining and assembly. The aim of the design was to give the model engineer and home-shop machinist a lathe that, whilst as versatile, adaptable and as rigid as possible, was reasonably priced and capable of further expansion as funds permitted. The basis of the machine was a precision-ground tube which carried a "novel wedge sliding key" to align the carriage and tailstock with the headstock; whether this arrangement was similar in principle to that used very successfully on the Metalmaster lathe, is not known but, if it was, then the accuracy of the alignment - always a problem with round bed lathes - would have been assured.
A casting in iron, with plain bronze bushes, the headstock held a hardened and ground 1-inch bore spindle with a 13/8" x 8 t.p.i nose thread; the 3-step V-belt pulley carried a ring of 60 indexing holes in the face of its largest diameter and was fitted - like a Myford ML7 - with a ball-bearing race to absorb spindle end thrust. The lathe could be supplied with a either direct-drive headstock, with a speed range from 350 to 1100 rpm, or in a version that included an epicyclic gear built into the headstock pulley - rather like the third-party application originally made for the English round-bed Drummond - in which case the speed range became a much more useful and practical 34 to 1100 rpm. If the owner had originally chosen the cheaper direct-drive headstock, and later wanted to fit the gearing system, a kit containing the necessary castings and gears was available that could be finish-machined on the lathe itself.
At 16" x 5.5" the cross slide was, for a small lathe, enormous long and designed, with its incredible 12.5 inches of travel, to allow the owner the chance of really successful milling operations when fitted with a vertical milling slide. 3 T slots were normally provided, but an option was the provision of a matrix of tapped holes - or even a plain slide if so desired. At 7.5" x 4.25" the top slide was also generously proportioned and designed, with its two T slots and 5 inches of travel, to be fastened to an (optional) angle plate and mounted on the cross slide as an economical vertical-milling slide. As standard the carriage was not driven through screwcutting changewheels - a quadrant to carry screwcutting gears was an extra - but by a 10 t.p.i leadscrew (which ran down the middle of the bed) connected to the spindle via a belt and clutch-engaged worm-and-wheel arrangement.
Fitted as standard with a rack-feed mechanism, the tailstock was also available, at no extra cost fitted with screw feed; the spindle was 1.25-inches in diameter, had a useful 5 inches of travel and carried a No. 2 Morse taper socket.
A simple swinging-arm countershaft was fitted, complete with a motor-mounting plate to take the recommended 0.75 hp 1425 r.p.m. motor; a 3-step V pulley was fitted but neither belt nor changewheel guards were fitted as standard - but could be supplied at extra cost.
Also used in the past by various lathe manufactures, the "Gem" name is known to have been used by the Fitchburg Machine Works, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts; by Seneca Falls of New York (for their simple, 3-inch centre height by 19-inches between centres plain-turning lathe introduced in 1889); the Swiss watchmaker's "Gem Glorious" and models from the British lathe makers Tyne and Holmes
If you have a Little Gem lathe the writer would be pleased to hear from you..