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ManSon Lathes

ManSon Continued on Page 2
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Given that only a tiny percentage of America's machine tools were ever made away from the eastern states, Los Angeles, California, immediately after WW2, might not  come to mind as a place where a new manufacturer of miniature lathes would emerge. However, as many thousands of the eastern engineers (who had moved to California during the War to build the ships and planes necessary to prosecute it) stayed on afterwards (and who can blame them) it is perhaps not so surprising that a company called Small Machines Inc. was created to make the tiny and very unusual ManSon. It may be that, originally, the ManSon was intended for distribution by tool companies throughout the USA -  who would have been invited to badge the machine as their own. A hint that this might have been the case was a Press Agency report from New York that appeared in the Miami Daily News (on Sunday September 28th, 1947) showing a comely young lady holding up a ManSon with one hand, the accompanying article describing the lathe as being made by the (now unknown) Richter Tool Co.
Located at 2010 South Sepulveda Boulevard in West Los Angeles, the firm began trading in October, 1946 and made what they boldly advertised as: "
The World's Smallest Lathe". If not true in an absolute sense, the lathe was, nevertheless, tiny. Just 93/16" long, 311/16" wide and 63/4" high ( 223 mm x 94 mm x 171 mm) the makers claimed a swing of 2" (51 mm) and a between-centres capacity of 3" (76 mm) - though measurements of the machine shown below give figures of 2.2" and 3.5" respectively. Whilst physically small, a more remarkable thing about the ManSon was its appearance - which closely resembled a scaled-down toolroom lathe of the era, along the lines of the American Monarch EE or English Smart & Brown Model A.  So difficult is it to categorise the lathe that the term "working-model" might be considered a fair description; certainly, when worn out, they make a wonderful mantelpiece decoration - at least, for those lucky enough to have an understanding better-half.
Having established their first model in production, a second was introduced, the
Duo Lathe this being slightly larger than the original and a more fully-developed machine with backgear and a built-in multi-speed countershaft. Shortly afterwards a third machine joined the line-up, the very rare, less expensive "MonoLathe" - a version of the DuoLathe intended just for simple plain-turning work with the bed (but not the stand) painted black. The MonoLathe, while retaining the backgear and a ball-bearing supported collet-holding headstock spindle, lacked a carriage assembly and leadscrew - the maker equipping it with just a tip-over toolrest. Lacking a bed rack - the normal place for the serial number to be stamped - on the MonoLathe this was punched (prefixed by J9) into the left-hand face of the main body, to the lower right-hand side - and so is not visible when the end cover is in place. Electrical control was by a rheostat foot unit, not unlike that used on a sewing machine, with a reversing switch on the back face of the bed. Few examples of the MonoLathe can have been made, the highest serial number so far encountered being 110; indeed, so slow must sales have been that a number were converted by the manufacturer to DuoLathe specification - which could be the explanation for why, very occasionally, an example of that model is found with the black bed - the rarest and so most collectable ManSon of all. Probably in order to place its efforts more lucratively as California's post-WW2 economy developed, on August 4, 1949 Small Machines Incorporated was sold/spun off as going business to MasterSon Engineering Co. of 1416 Westwood Boulevard, Los Angeles. In 1953/54, having continued production of the original models (and just three years before their demise) Masterson introduced a line of three new versions (S, BS and BWW) that used the single model description "Master".
Continued. below:

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The perfect mantelpiece ornament

Continued:
Made in die-cast aluminium, the combined base and headstock carried a cast-iron V-way bed that was screwed to bosses at each end of the integral chip tray. The headstock spindle, running in self-oiling, porous-bronze bearings, was bored through 3/16" and carried a nose threaded  7/16" x 20 t.p.i American National Fine - these tiny dimensions limiting the collet capacity to 1/8" (3 mm). Early models lacked any means of getting oil into the bearings - later machines had a hole drilled in the top of the casting with a knurled-edge blanking plug (often missing) to keep out dirt. It is thought that new lathes might have been provided with a piece of sticky-backed tape to hold the plug in place during transit - the tape possibly being printed with lubrication instructions.
Featuring relatively enormous saddle wings, the aluminium carriage could be moved along the bed by either a hand-operated rack feed or under power from the "leadscrew". The base of the lathe contained a crude open frame 110 volt motor with exposed winding and fitted with a 4-blade fan, that drove upwards, via a neoprene "O" ring belt, to a wheel with an inboard gear attached, positioned just below the headstock spindle; the inboard gear drove another attached to the end of the spindle whilst a small gear (on the spindle) drove back down through a compound train of slender, clock-like gears to the 32 t.p.i. leadscrew. Unfortunately, because the leadscrew drive gears were fixed in place and could not be changed, the lathe was not capable of screwcutting; even so, this must be the world's smallest production lathe ever to have been fitted with a power-sliding facility where the entire carriage assembly moved along the bed.
Although it would have been much cheaper and easier to have fitted a plain, parallel types, every handwheel on the lathe (including the proper, but miniature cast-aluminium ball-ended "balanced" wheel on the cross-feed screw) was provided with curved finger grips.
Both the cross slide and the saddle it ran on (which was cast in one piece with the apron) were in aluminium. The cross slide gib strip was interesting: a "corrugated" strip of spring steel, designed to be self-adjusting - and successfully so, considering the small forces involved. Examination of the strip at the points where it bents over at the ends (to retain it) shows that this area was also touched on a grinding wheel to ensure flatness.
There was no backgear on the original models and the number of spindle speeds, from the fan-cooled motor, was limited to two - from double-step pulleys. The machine was finished in grey - and weighed just 6 lbs or (probably for the later models packed for dispatch) 10 or 12 lbs (4.5 or 5.4 kg) according to which publicity catalogue you believe..
A 1
1/4" faceplate, two centres, a toolpost, motor and switch were supplied as part of the regular equipment and the initial cost was $49.75--though this soon rose to $58.50. For an extra $2.25 a single drive-dog was supplied, together with a tool bit and test rod. As a comparison, in 1948, the Craftsman "80" 6-inch swing by 12 inches between centres, backgeared screwcutting lathe cost  $42 without a motor - and $55.50 with.
Originally packed in a 6" x 4" wooden box and offered (in 1949) at $34.50), Manson listed a small
accessory kit. The wooden box was superseded by a hardwood-lined, 6" x 4" plastic box and finally a wood-lined metal case. The first kit contained a 4-jaw independent chuck (stamped with the ManSon name and address), a collet-holding nose-piece to take the supplied four collets (in stress proof steel) of 1/32", 1/16", 3/32" and 1/8"; a 11/2" or 13/4"-diameter faceplate with eight tapped holes, a tailstock drill-chuck, two tailstock collets, one countersink centre drill, two lathe dogs (sizes 3/16" and 3/8"), two high-speed tool bits (ready sharpened and ground) and an Allen-wrench. Similar kits, but with different ranges of accessories, were also produced. Depending on the date of manufacture, the 4-jaw chuck was also known to have been supplied in a larger size, with an aluminium body, but without any maker's identification.
Relatively expensive, it appears from the numbers surviving that few can have been sold, but the Company did list all the items separately including two items not in the kits, namely: test rods in dural or brass 5/16" in diameter and 2
1/2" long with drilled centre holes; a tap and die set ($12.50) in a metal case containing 4 taps and 4 dies sized 00-90, 0-80, 1-72 and 2-56, one tap and die holder, 4 bushings and 1 set-screw wrench.
At first no 3-jaw chuck was offered - a common failing amongst the makers of small lathes for any sub-2" diameter 3-jaw has always been a difficult to produce economically, yet accurately, on a production basis. The delay in obtaining a suitable 3-jaw was, however, short-lived, for with the introduction of the DuoLathe in 1948, a 3-jaw self-centring chuck was offered as an optional extra for only a few dollars more than the independent 4-jaw.
Today, many miniature-lathe enthusiasts use a suitably-mounted Jacobs or similar brand of  "tailstock" chuck on the headstock spindle; these tiny units are very accurate and, whilst hardly as versatile as the real-thing, can be surprisingly useful. Unfortunately, the ManSon is so minute that only the shortest version of the smallest Jacobs chuck is suitable. It is never long before the owner of a very small lathe realises that only collets allow really accurate work is to be turned out and, on the DuoLathe with its ball-bearing supported spindle, this became a possibility. As a note of interest, some late versions of the original lathe had the tailstock end of the bed milled to accommodate a removable leadscrew-support bracket (as used on Duo and later models) - this allowing the carriage to be slid off without the need for further dismantling.
Was the ManSon a practical proposition? One owner writes: "
It is possible to take a cut so small that the shavings appear to be the size of a human hair in one long string without breaking (if you have a good sharp tool) this is imperative for this machine. The maximum cut you can take is only about .006 to 010. inch but if you work within the unit's limits it is a very fine addition to any workshop."
Marked by the printers '1957', the last known dated information originating from the Company came three years after the introduction of another small lathe that was to dominate its market sector for many years - the Emco "Unimat"
If you have a ManSon of any type the writer would appreciate any comments about its specification, performance and a note of its serial number.

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My elder son with his ManSon

The original ManSon Miniature Lathe - just over 9" long
Missing from the hole on the right hand side is the original electrical toggle switch.


The apron had gearing that gave a "correct" movement of the saddle as the handwheel was turned. The clasp nut was one-sided - and without a compensating thrust pad; however, for the forces involved, it was perfectly adequate. Every handwheel on the lathe (including the proper, but miniature, ball-ended "balanced" handwheel on the cross-feed screw) was fitted with gracefully-shaped finger grips.
Look closely at the bent-over tongue of metal protruding from the end of the cross slide; it appears to be a simple strip of metal - but is, in fact, a very-well made piece of "corrugated" spring steel which acts as a form of self-adjusting gib strip. Note how the cross-feed handle and the boss that abuts against the face of the apron are cast as one piece.  In a design reminiscent of the Rivett lathe the handle was secured to the shaft by a screw which ran down the length of the shorter cross arm.



ManSon continued on Page 2   Duo Lathe   Master Lathe  MonoLathe 

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A complete Data Pack is available for the ManSon

ManSon Lathes
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