By the mid 1950s Portass had produced over twenty different models of lathe, together with a small selection of millers, shapers, drills, countershaft-drive systems, foot motors, vertical-milling slides and T-slotted cross slides. In reality, production of all but lathes appears to have been very limited - and even these were made in batches to order with, at any one time, only a limited selection of the range available for immediate delivery. As a typical example was the Model "C", a low-cost special sold only direct from the factory, the margins being insufficient to allow any dealer discount. The "C" was a very basic lathe, with a 3-inch centre height, listed in 1953 at £13 : 17s : 6d for the 10-inch between-centres model and £15 : 10s : 0d for the 17-inch and supplied without backgear or screwcutting and with the T-slotted saddle carrying just a single, swivelling tool slide. Even with its attractively low price few can have been sold and the model is rarely encountered second-hand. Another limited-production machine was a rather different backgeared and screwcutting lathe that broke with many Portass conventions; the 4-inch Heavy Duty - only one surviving example being known. Also seldom found, despite being promoted in (tiny) advertisements in Model |Engineer Magazine during 1954, is the 3" x 12.5" Model L: Backgeared but not screwcutting this is known to have had a rack-and-pinion hand-driven carriage with the saddle formed as a T-slotted boring table topped by a single swivelling tool slide. If you recognise this as a Portass model you own, the writer would be most interested in making contact.
Portass was also kept busy supplying machines for retailers to re-badge as their own and examples have been found marked: Altona, Amax (the badge stated "Amax Lathe, Russell, Croydon Eng"), A.T.M., B.I.L., Bond's Maximus, Companion (sold by Johns in Auckland, New Zealand), "Eclipse" (for the Sheffield hand-tool makers James Neil & Sons), Enox for an unknown distributor or retailer, Excell, G.A. (George Adams), Gamages, Graves, James Grose Ltd. of London (the latter chiselling off the Portass name and substituting their own badge), Juniper, Randa, Temmah, Wakefield, Woolner and Zyto, All appear to have been based on established Portass models, nearly always a version of the "Junior" or the venerable "S Type", although in every case some small differences, usually down to cost-cutting, can be found. However, it may be that some examples were not made by Portass, but copied - one Portass advertising sheet claiming: Beware of Imitations. Portass lathes are being systematically copied and marketed and purchases should be careful to ascertain that the maker's label is attached to the machine.
Most famous of the Portass line - though not the best selling - was the popular and long-lived "Dreadnought". Unfortunately (and confusingly) the name was applied to a variety of models but is most commonly found on a heavily-built, 35/8" x 20" gap bed, backgeared and screwcutting machine fitted with tumble reverse and made for both bench and stand mounting. The typical Dreadnought model shown in the first picture below is mounted on the maker's "underdrive stand", and follows the sensible Portass principles of using, wherever possible, very long flat drive belts, in the case over 20 feet of them. However, one dreads to think of the transmission losses as the motor struggled to first spin a plain-bearing cross shaft (through the upper part of the left-hand leg) then a massive, 112 lb cast-iron flywheel and, finally, the strongly-built, bronze-bushed headstock spindle. In reality the machine performed extremely well, and an example used by the writer for a number of months ran with turbine-like smoothness - the flywheel proving capable of storing prodigious amounts of energy. The reasoning behind this design, and for not employing V-belts, was as follows: Short, tight V-belts rapidly promote ovality in the bearings, lack of resilience in the drive, undue wear and sudden load taking to the motor with a general lack of smoothness and finish to the work. Any old and experienced engineer will concur with this view. Unfortunately, the success of many tens of thousands of American V-belt driven Atlas and Craftsman lathes would appear to contradict this opinion.
Also shown on this page are very two very rare Dreadnought models with centre heights of 5 and 45/8-inches; it is known that only six examples of the version with a hinged "Perspex" cover on the front of the headstock and a choice of a screwcutting gearbox or chanhewheels were made, and it must be assumed that the other model, the "Big Dreadnaught" with a more conventional appearance and screwcutting by changewheels, was also made in very limited numbers. One additional, infrequently encountered type was badged "Dreadnought Junior" - and seems to have been yet another variation on the ubiquitous "Model S" - though perhaps of a heavier build.
Most of the ordinary 35/8" x 20" Dreadnought models were supplied for both bench mounting and stand mounting first with flat belt drive - listed (for some unfathomable reason) by the makers as "Green List" machines (see illustration below) the only Portass known to have been offered with power cross feed - though the mechanism was Victorian in design with a power-shaft passing down the back of the bed. In the mid 1950s, as demand for the original, now rather old-fashioned looking Dreadnought waned (doubtless under competitive pressure from the success of the very much more up-to-date Myford ML7), Portass introduced the backgeared, screwcutting, 6-speed 35/8" x 17" gap bed D5 or "Dreadnought Five" (not to be confused with the quite different Mk. 5) almost a miniature version of the earlier machine with both headstock spindle and tailstock barrel of 1-inch diameter. The headstock was almost identical to that employed on the last design of "S Type" with a 9 t.p.i x 1.122" spindle thread and 3/8" bore but with tumble-reverse fitted as standard. The lathe was brought further up-to-date by the use of a long cross slide with 5 T-slots, V-belt drive and the complete guarding for the changewheels and backgear fitted as standard. A set of eleven changewheels was provided: 2 x 20t, 25t, 30t, 35t, 40t, 45t, 50t, 55t, 60t and 65 teeth. As is so often the case "new" did not mean "better" and the "PD5" (as it became known) was only a pale imitation of its heavier, more workman-like forebears.
Today the most frequently encountered Portass (and so what must have been the best-selling model and the most often re-badged for sale by others) is the Model S, a simple, 3" x 12.5" lathe with a gap bed and (usually but not exclusively), backgear and screwcutting. Designed in the late 1920s and built until the outbreak of war in 1939, the Model S was re-modelled and brought back into production - "in response to many earnest requests from home and overseas" - in 1951, when it was available with centre heights of 3 and 33/8 inches and between-centres capacities of 121/2 and 18 inches.
At around the time when the D5 was nearing production, the firm suffered an almost terminal blow when a large number of patterns was stolen - so preventing them from supplying spares for the majority of older models. Stanley died in the early 1970s and the firm ceased trading with all the remaining stock of spares and patterns being destroyed. For many years afterwards the porch of the family home near the works retained its attractive stained-glass Portass logo; sadly this was lost when a new occupant moved in and, not realising its significance, ripped it out. The Portass family appear to no longer have any connection with Sheffield, and if any reader is able to supply additional information about the Portass Company, or the family, the writer, a native of the city, would be interested to hear from you...