Yet another small English lathe, made from the early 1920 to the early 1950s, the 3.75" x 14" backgeared and screwcutting Ideal was manufactured by the Ideal Machine & Tool Co, London E8 but often badged and advertised by J. Willimott and Sons, Engineers, of Canal Street Works, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, as their own product. Further addresses for Willimott were Neville's Factory, Chilwell, Nottingham during the 1920s and Hallam Road, Beeston, Nottinghamshire in the 1940s. The lathes were also advertised by Buck & Ryan (a well-known national tool and machinery supplier) as the "Faircut" - though the machine obviously had nothing to do with the Sheffield-based company whose lathes were of an entirely different design and far better quality. The Ideal was also to be found, along with many other "badge-engineered" lathes, in some pre-war editions of the Tyzack & Son machinery mail-order catalogue. Willimot also advertised milling machines, but non have yet been found (if you have one, the writer would be interested to know). Sales literature for all Willimot products is rare, and little is known of the lathes' official specification; however, both a lighter 3-inch version was made (backgeared and screwcutting with 12 inches between centres, a full nut on the leadscrew and fitted with a 3-step headstock pulley to take a round rope drive) and a heavier 3.5" x 18" model with flat-belt drive - a model that, judging by the numbers surviving, was very popular. The 3.5" was to be listed (by Willimot) under various designations including the Type A when fully equipped with leadscrew clasp nuts, rack drive for the carriage, backgear and compound slide rest. The Type B sacrificed the split nut and rack drive being fitted with a full nut on the dog-clutch-engaged leadscrew instead. A further Type, the B2, was also listed - but this differed only in being fitted with a single swivelling tool slide in place of a proper compound unit. Although the basic 3-inch lathe was reasonably priced at £7 : 18s : 6d, the larger model was expensive being, in 1929, listed at £19 : 15s ; 0d for the Model A, £18 ; 15S ; 0d for the B and £18 : 0s :d for the B2. In later years the lathe was to be found described as the as the "Acme" type with two models available, the A and A1, though what differences existed between the two is not known. Unfortunately, not only did the manufacture fail to affix any model badges to the machines, there was often no identification at all: no name was cast into the bed and the writer would not be surprised to find examples carrying a "Gamages" badge. Indeed, one owner of an Ideal, bought new from a tool dealer in the early 1950s, only discovered what make it was in 2009. A lathe very similar in appearance to the Ideal was also manufactured (it is shown at the bottom of the page, painted red) but this had so many minor differences that it could well have been a copy. In addition, a further type has been discovered (shown below in the black and white photographs) that may well have been Willimott's own production, though this cannot be confirmed.
As the Ideal was steadily developed during its production run, it is entirely possible that the company ran off examples with a specification modified to the order of a larger dealer or overseas' customer - examples of this type having been found in Australia. Several significant alterations were made to the headstock bearings including examples with split pinch-bolts (two versions), bronze with a draw-in taper arrangement and even (on late examples) with bolt-down caps. The apron was also modified with at least three different designs used, these carrying either a simple, bolt-on full leadscrew nut (under the saddle) or clasp nuts carried in short and long castings. Even the shape of bed mounting feet and position of the holding-down bolts was altered - some lathes having them to the left, others on the centre line; the pattern maker must have been a busy man….
A rather light, insubstantial machine, the Ideal nevertheless managed to incorporate many useful and well-though-out features as standard: tumble reverse, split leadscrew nuts, backgear, elegant (but fragile) cast-iron handles with distinctive swept-back spokes, a leadscrew handwheel and a gap bed. Rather strangely (and another useful identification point) on many models both the cross and top slides were T-slotted. However, changes were also made in this department with some lathes having the cross-feed screw carried in a boss that bolted to the front of the apron (so leaving the screw exposed as the slide advanced) while others had a completely different design with a plate bolted to the end of the cross slide and covered ways.
A traditional English-style, flat-topped bed with 60-degree angle edges was used and early models were fitted with flat-belt drive and simple parallel plain-bush "split" headstock bearings, adjusted by a split in the bearing housing closed down by a bolt. Later machines were considerably improved by the use of a heavier, more rigid headstock casting with a flat front face (that gave improved support to the bearing posts) and the fitting of "draw-in" bronze bearings whose clearances could be set by screwed rings that pulled them into the headstock casting together with (unusually for this class and age of machine) a ball-bearing thrust race at the left-hand end. Oddly, a new headstock pattern was not commissioned, instead the older one was modified leaving the bosses for the camp screws still in place - with some even being cored ready for the drilling and tapping. The front bearing was a single taper with that at the rear (at least on those examples seen) a double cone. The headstocks of machines made in the final years of production were further strengthened by the use of bolt-down cap bearings, an unusual fitting to be found on any small, inexpensive lathe. Yet another version, a "poverty" special was also manufactured (badged "Willimott"), this having distinctive pinch-bolt bearings with long, extended "flanges" at the front, V-belt drive, a single swivelling top slide, a full leadscrew nut and the necessary dog clutch to disengage the drive.
Because from the start of production all models had a handwheel fitted to the leadscrew - and hence a method of moving the carriage steadily and slowly under hand control - early examples had the apron handwheel geared directly to the rack (giving a usefully rapid movement up and down the bed, but making it difficult to use for taking a cut). Later models were improved by the incorporation of an intermediate reduction gear on the carriage handwheel drive that produced a finer and more controllable feed. On the "direct-gear" models the carriage handwheel was carried on a bracket cast as an extension to the right-hand side of the apron but when (at some unknown date) the intermediate gear was introduced, the apron become a proper full-length and full depth type.
Early models had their changewheels carried in a single-slot bracket and then, to improve the threading range and allow a finer power feed to be generated, in a bracket formed as an unusually narrow-angle fork. Quite why the angle chosen was so tight is not known - but it certainly limited the arrangement of compound gears that could be carried; as a note of interest, the early South Bend 9-inch (as the Model 40)5 also underwent a similar transformation from single to forked bracket and details of how this affected the threading and feed arrangements can be read here. All examples of the Ideal inspected by the writer have had tumble reverse fitted as standard with each having a rather over-wide gap in the bed that required, if working close up to the faceplate, the top slide to be well advanced if the cutting tool were to reach it without the carriage running over fresh air.
Some thought had obviously been given by the designer to the needs of the model and experimental engineer who intended to mount a milling slide - and who therefore required as much cross slide travel as possible: to obtain this he made the cross-slide end support bracket in the form of a long tube - so allowing the slide to be drawn all the way back until it met the inner face of the handwheel (this was a feature to be found on all types, from first to last).
On all but the very first examples of the ideal, not only the cross slide but the top slide as well carried T-slots - a useful identification point. While, on some early lathes the top slide was pivoted on a single bolt positioned at the rear, the majority had the slide held in a circular T-slot and able to be rotated through 360°. The very first batch of Ideal models made are believed to have been different, with no T-slots in either slide and the top slide sitting on a raiser block.
Unfortunately the tailstock suffered from that weakness common to so many cheaper lathes - and a few expensive ones as well, such as early examples of the Schaublin 65 - an arrangement that relied upon the closing down of a long slot in the casting to grip and lock the barrel. As some slight compensation the method of clamping the tailstock to the bed was the well designed - if rather old-fashioned in concept - the cam spindle running longitudinally through the lower part of the casting and emerging underneath the barrel handwheel. One interesting point about the locking-to-bed arrangement was that the clamping block was drawn upwards against the inside faces of the bed - that nearer to the front being vertical with the one behind set at 60°. As the whole machine was lightly constructed, a vigorous pull of the locking handle was sufficient to make the bed swell outwards slightly and cause the carriage movement to stiffen as it neared the tailstock - not a desireable feature but one that does demonstrate how flexible thin cast iron can be. In line with the improvements seen in other areas, as the design matured the tailstock was also strengthened by the use of a generally heavier casting with the previously curved sides somewhat straightened out.
If any reader has an original Ideal of any type, the writer would be interested to hear from you..