Harrison were established in 1898, initially as textile machinery manufactures - yet it was only two years later that they produced their first lathe. Harrison machine tools have always had an excellent reputation for robust, but user-friendly design, the employment of good-quality materials and have long been popular both in Great Britain and abroad. Many thousands have been supplied to UK schools and colleges as well as every variety of industrial location - and considerable numbers exported worldwide, especially to the USA and Canada. In addition to lathes a limited number of milling machines were offered and today they offer various CNC models and a range of modern, conventional lathes, the M Series, fitted with variable-speed drive as the V350, V390, V460 and V550. All these types, together with the smaller, older versions, are in great demand, especially the latter type for use by model engineers, home-shop machinists and in smaller professional machine shops. The notes below concern the pre M-Series machines, mainly variants of the original L.5 Model. A partial list of Serial Numbers can be found here.
One of the problems in identifying specific models of Harrison lathe made during the period 1938 to 1965 is the lack of a nameplate; some lathes, especially the later 11-inch, 140, 155, 165, 190, 13-inch and 15-inch types, did have them, but by no means all. Even the sales brochures and price lists are of little help for many lack model-type designations and simply refer to machines as "9-inch swing", "11-inch Swing" and "13-inch swing", etc. Sometimes the letter L appeared before the centre height - as in the very early L2 and later L.13 - but not always, and occasionally price lists used the L prefix, but again, not in a consistent way. The only sure way to discover what you have is to measure the centre height and then carefully compare the machine with the pictures available in this section of the Archive.
Very old Harrison lathes are rare, with hardly any of pre-1935 vintage surviving At the cheaper end of the used market the most common model is the geared-head, clutch-equipped 9-inch (229 mm) swing L.5 - though the almost-identical looking 11-inch (279 mm) swing L.5A is a far better bet - and often hardly any more expensive. The L.5, with its all-geared headstock, was introduced in the early 1940s as a development of an earlier series and was the company's smallest true industrial lathe. Priced at around £180 - compared to £560 for the largest 16-inch - it ran, with only minor mechanical modifications and specification changes, until the mid 1960s when the smaller models in the range were joined by distinctly-different but short-lived 10-Inch and 12-Inch lathes. Then, from around 1968, a very much more modern-looking Mk. 3 L.6 and 13-inch and 15-inch models were introduced - the latter types also badged with their metric-equivalent numbers as the Models 155, 165 and 195. These lathes were, in effect, early versions of the M Series with similar aprons, screwcutting gearboxe and other smaller parts. However, even by the early 1970s - and despite new models and the introduction of the quite different M300 - some of the older machines were still in the catalogues.
Harrison's range included, from the late 1930s until the early 1970s, the following:
9-inch/11-inch flat-belt drive L2
9-Inch model L.5 centre height 4.5" (9" swing)
11-Inc model L5 centre height 5.5" (11" swing)
A 1940s-built 16-inch (seldom found)
140 (140 mm swing) a late model 11-inch with a modified headstock
10-Inch (and a 12-inch version both very rare mid to late 1960s models)
11-Inch (mid 1960s and also found badged as the "Clearing" in the USA and Canada)
12-Inch/13-inch L.6 in Mk. 1, Mk. 2 and Mk. 3 versions (badged variously as 10", 12" and 13" models for home and export markets)
Models 155 and 165
13-Inch (early L13 home-market)
13-inch late Model
15-Inch late model
Harrison Graduate Wood Lathe
Harrison Jubilee Wood Lathe
Harrison "Union" Light-pattern wood and metal lathes
AA-10 VS a re-badged Colchester Chipmaster for the export market.
500S capstan version of the late-model, 5-inch centre height, variable-speed drive Boxford VSL; probably for export only.
The various machines are easily confused and, because the two smallest, the L.5 and L.5A, used the same bed casting can look, at a glance, identical. The writer has been to dealers where, with several Harrisons on offer, the tailstocks from lathes of different centre height had been accidentally (or maliciously) swapped over - so take care.