email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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Graves Lathes


Mr. J.G.Graves, originally a watchmaker, was a very successful Sheffield (UK) businessman whose early ideas for monthly-payment mail-order sales to the "working classes" (against the tide of prevailing wisdom) made him a very wealthy man and, ultimately, one of the great benefactors to Sheffield's hospitals, libraries, museums, art galleries and open spaces. The range of products offered was wide and included many specially-commissioned items including machine tools and bicycles, the latter even carry the Graves initials (JGG) cast prominently into the changewheel and the free-wheel unit on the rear axle neatly stamped with the inscription J. G. Graves Ltd. Sheffield.
With such a background it is not surprising that, although the design of the Graves lathes shows them to have been aimed at the ordinary man who might just have been able to afford a new machine on monthly terms, they were well made and of a decent specification. All were almost certainly manufactured by what was to become the well-known Portass Company in Sheffield, but who, at the time of the first Graves lathe, were trading as the
Heeley Motor Manufacturing Co."  On the 22nd of April 1926 Graves took out a quarter-page advertisement in the "Model Engineer" promoting their Portass-based 21/8" lathe and later that same month (22 April ) one for the 21/8" "Baby" model. The latter could be delivered for an initial payment of 6 shillings with the order - followed by nine more payments of the same amount - a total of 60 shillings (3). The cash price was a competitive 2 : 15s : 0d when fitted with a proper screw-action tailstock barrel, or 2 : 5s : 0d with the simpler lever-action type. Thereafter Graves ran smaller illustrated advertisements for the 21/8" model with Tyzacks, who were also were also advertising small Portass machines, competiting with their 'Baby Zyto". The larger of the two models offered was produced in three versions: the simplest was the "D", arranged for wood turning or very light metal work; the "E" version added a compound slide rest and the "F" backgear - while the machine with the most complete equipment was the "G", this having a gap bed, backgear, screwcutting, a dog clutch on the leadscrew and (although not clear from the picture immediately below) a compound slide rest. The headstock pulley was not, as might appear, a V-belt assembly, but designed to be driven by a round leather "rope" from a foot treadle or bench countershaft.
A proper backgear assembly was fitted and the headstock bearings on this model were, unlike the simple and weak split bearings offered on most other small lathes of the period, of the more robust cap type which could be properly adjusted with shims.
The banjo was a curious, L-shaped affair, of a style occasionally found on other, cheaper makes - and which seemed designed to deliberately frustrate the poor owner who only wanted a simple, quick and easy method of setting up a compound gear train to provide a fine feed to the carriage.
Graves also marketed a smaller 2.125" centre height lathe, the "NV Portable", and a small hand-operated shaper.
Graves-branded machine tools are very rare and, because they appear to have lacked any identifying maker's marks, are often unrecognised except as being similar to models by Portass. If you have one of these little machines, or a Graves catalogue, the writer would be interested to hear from you..

Graves NV  Model G  3" x 12..5"

Graves Model F with compound slide rest, lever-action tailstock and backgear

Graves Model E with compound slide rest and lever-action tailstock - but no backgear

Graves NV 3" lathe Model E with compound slide rest, lever-action tailstock and fitted to the maker's wooden stand with "foot motor". Another Portass-manufactured machine with a top slide identical to that employed on the 21/8" "Baby" Portass.


Graves NV Potable Model J with lever tailstock

Smallest of the J.G.Graves range, the NV Portable was made for them by the Sheffield Compnay of Portass (at the time the Heeley Motor Manufacturing Company) who sold the lathe under their own name as the 21/8" "Baby". With a 21/8" centre height and 10" between centres it could turn a disc 51/2" in diameter in its gap. The hollow mandrel, bored through 1/4", ran in spilt bronze bearings and was fitted with a two-speed pulley to take a round driving "rope". A choice of lever or square-threaded tailstock barrels was offered, the cross feed screw was also of square section and the overhung leadscrew, with a full nut clamped beneath the saddle, provided carriage movement along the full length of the bed

The illustrations above and below are from a heavily retouched full-size rendering of the machine in the maker's large, fold-out, mail-order catalogue.

A very simple, portable wooden stand was offered - designed to be, "propped against any wall without fixing, and may be carried as easily as an ordinary pair of folding steps."


email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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Graves Lathes