Nothing is known of the background to the Keen lathe, except that it was possibly made in Australia during either the 1930s or 1940s (by yet another "forgotten" manufacturer) and obviously aimed at the amateur market. Proof that the lathe must have remained in production for at least a number years is the number of small changes made to the design and variety of forms in which it has been found - from a very basic plain-turning type with the slide-rest assembly bolted to the bed and both with and without backgear and screwcutting. Unfortunately, on the simplest model so far discovered, the non-backed plain-turning version, the makers neglected to provide a long-travel top slide so limiting the length of cut to a miserable two inches or so. The variety of specifications offered show the maker's intention being to allow the impecunious to purchase a basic version, while the better healed could order a more fully-equipped model. However, unlike the English EW lathe, that was also offered in a similar number of forms, it appears that on the Keen it was not possible to retrofit the desirable extras - backgear and screwcutting - to the cheaper versions.
Of approximately 4-inch centre height, and 16 inches between centres, the general appearance of the Keen was not dissimilar to that of the English Drummond M-Type lathe, as built from 1930 to 1942, and the contemporary small Colchester lathe. However, although the arrangement of its cantilever bed may have been almost identical, in almost every other respect the Keen was different: the headstock was of lighter construction carrying simple split-type bearings with the spindle running direct in the cast iron of the headstock (though, incredibly for a cheap lathe, some examples have been found fitted with helical backgears); carriage and tailstock were guided along the bed by vertical ways formed between the front and back ways; a geared-down drive was used between carriage handwheel and bed rack. On the screwcutting versions, there were "full" instead of "half" clasp nuts gripping the leadscrew, though these were of an unusual design being hinged on a common shaft in a side-by-side arrangement, almost in a "Désaxé" fashion. The bed was straight, with apparently no option of a gap, and clamped down to the bench by just two bolts, one at each end on the centre line of the foot
Made as a forked arm instead of a simple slotted bracket, the changewheel-carrying banjo showed that the designer appreciated the easy with which this allowed both compound-drive fine-feed to be set up and variety of pitches easily generated.
Oddly, the Keen was very similar to the larger of the two known "Eclipse" lathes - the non-backgeared with its leadscrew running down the centre line of the bed - though the British machine incorporated a dog clutch at the headstock end of the be. With the history of Eclipse lathes also a mystery, the writer considers that, despite most examples being found in Australia and New Zealand, the Sheffield lathe maker Portass might have been involved in their production.
If you have a Keen lathe, or especially any Keen sales literature - or know anything of the company, the writer would be very interested to hear from you.