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Pratt & Whitney Lathes

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Toolroom and Engine Lathes  Pratt & Whitney Millers

A Catalog is available for the P & W Precision Lathes

After some time as an independent organisation, Pratt and Whitney became part of the Niles-Bement-Pond group of companies. One of the most famous names in machine tools, the Niles part of the Niles-Bement-Pond equation came from two brothers, James and Jonathan Niles, who left their native Connecticut in 1845 to establish a company in Cincinnati to repair boats on the Ohio river. Their business grew rapidly and they were soon able to afford the luxury of designing their own power plants - which led them to building steam-powered sugar mills delivered to the booming plantations in Louisiana - by the very same river boats that had created their original wealth. By 1853 the firm was a major employer, providing jobs for between four and five-hundred workers.
The firm's foray into machine tool building came about almost by accident for, during the Civil War, the firm, needing another lathe, found that non was available quickly enough, and so instructed two young mechanics, George A. Gray Jr. and Alexander Gordon to built one. So successful was their design that before long they found themselves in charge of a new department manufacturing nothing but machine tools.
In 1866 the Niles brother were bought out by a partnership of Gaff (a wealthy distiller in Aurora, Ill.), Gray & Gordon . The Niles name was retained as the "Niles Tool Works" - since their main interest was in the manufacture of machine tools. The Niles factory in Cincinnati stood on a site needed for the new Pennsylvania Railroad station, and the Company moved Hamilton, Ohio, where water power was available from a canal along the Miami River.
Expanded enormously, the Niles Tool Works was soon rivalling the Sellers firm in Philadelphia as a builder and exporter of large machine tools. In 1898 Niles purchased control of the Pond Machine Tool Works and, during the next year, a great consolidation took place with the Niles-Bement-Pond Co. being formed from several major builders of large machine tools including the Niles Tool Works, Bement, Miles & Co., the Pond Machine Tool Company and the Philadelphia Engineering Works. Pratt & Whitney were bought out two years later; the company was being torn apart by internal bickering and was unable to resist a take-over bid.
Among the companies acquired later were John Bertram in Canada, the Ridgeway Machine Company (which built boring mills in Pennsylvania) and the Milwaukee Machine Tool Company, a lathe builder as well as numerous other small companies. As a result of expanding markets, improved exports, a strong home trade and their take-over activities, Niles-Bement-Pond became, for a time, the largest machine-tool company in the world.
In 1920, the Company's catalog, issued from their headquarters in New York, was a huge 635-page hard-backed book, with full-page halftones of the company's main products. Some were series production items, but many were highly specialised machines designed for munitions and similar military work. The range of products was so great, from toolmaker's flats and slip gages to armour plate bending presses, from precision bench to vertical lathes with 42-foot diameter tables, that the company could offer to undertake the construction and complete equipping of new industrial plants with NBP machine tools, cranes, railway engines, track and associated services.


Pratt & Whitney No. 3 Precision Bench lathe

Long synonymous with the finest-quality American engineering, Pratt & Whitney produced a range of machine tools amongst which were a series of beautifully made and elegantly proportioned precision bench lathes. The machine illustrated below, and its immediate forebears (which lacked the large cast-in Pratt & Whitney letters on the bed and may have been sold under the model designation 880) were  available from before the First World War until shortly before the Second. Later P & W plain-turning precision lathes, of the 3C Type and not dissimilar to the early models, had enclosed headstocks and were mounted on self-contained, underdrive cabinet stands.
P & W were not the only American makers of such machines and firms such as Levin, Bottum, American Watch Tool Company, B.C.Ames, Bottum, Hjorth, Potter, Pratt & Whitney, Rivett, Wade, Waltham Machine Works, WadePratt & Whitney, Rivett, Cataract, Hardinge, Elgin, Remington, Sloan & Chace, and (though now very rare) Frederick Pearce, W.H.Nichols, Ballou & Whitcombe, Sawyer Watch Tool Co., Engineering Appliances, Fenn-Sadler the "Cosa Corporation of New York" and UND..

Pratt & Whitney 7" and 10" Precision Lathe (3.5" and 5" centre height)
Prior to World War 2, this particular pattern of lathe was greatly favoured by professional tool, watch, clock and instrument makers for their critically-dimensioned work (see American patents: 1980336 and 210177)
Also advertised in a 10-inch version (a 5-inch centre height) the bed length was usually 32", giving 16" between centres. The spindle was made from tool steel, hardened and ground and running in a plain bearings of the same material with a double taper at the chuck end and a plain cylindrical bearing at the other. In order to achieve the necessary accuracy and long life associated with type of set-up in 1899 the
American Machinist reported that P & W had built a set of specialised grinding machines that employed diamond laps to finish both the bearings and the spindles. As an interesting aside (although other companies had also developed successful models) P & W were also responsible for the design, again in 1899, of what was to become almost the standard machine for the manufacture of bicycle ball bearing cups and cones; it was capable of running up to 28,500 rpm and working to within limits of  0.00025".
When equipped with the maker's two-speed countershaft unit and a 3/4 H.P. motor, the lathe had 6 spindle speeds from 144 to 1208 rpm. The left-hand face of the headstock cone pulley was equipped with a ring of 48 indexing holes - with the option of a 60-hole ring to special order. Both headstock and tailstock tapers were listed as No. 4 Jarno, but examples have been found with both 2 Morse Taper and 3C (or 3AT) collet fittings in the headstock - and tailstocks with a No. 1 Morse Taper. Many special accessories were also offered including: screwcutting, grinding, milling,  power filing,  special tailstocks, a "Complete Workshop" Unit, a Double Lathe Mounting and a Geared Countershaft Drive Unit..

A No. 3 Pratt & Whitney with compound slide rest.

Last version of the P & W precision bench lathe from a 1949 catalogue cover

Last of the No. 3 Series lathes was the 1940s Type 3C - a machine improved in detail with variable-speed drive, longer travels on top and cross slide, larger micrometer dials and a number of other minor improvements.
If any reader has a good quality picture of a late-model Pratt & Whitney 3C lathe the writer would be interested to hear from you.

Listed as the Bench Machine Tool Set the unit above consisted of the No. 3 precision lathe, No. 0 Sigourney High-Speed Sensitive Drill and the No. 3 Horizontal Miller. The pine and cast-iron unit was factory built, with a complete "fast and loose" countershaft unit with foot treadle control - and could be ordered with any combination of accessories and extras from the maker's lists.

No. 3 Precision bench lathes in use during the 1920s

Double-lathe mounting. The lathe on the left is shown set up for grinding, the one on the right for chase screwcutting.

A 7-inch model with, at the headstock end,  a slightly different bed casting

Heavy-duty twin-V-belt drive headstock. This lathe has been converted from under to back-drive

Gap in bed to allow the twin V-belts to pass through

A Master Speed-Ranger variable-speed drive unit mounted inside a Model C stand. The unit had an integral 3/4 h.p. motor and worked by pinching a steel ring between two cones that could be moved relative to each other on a longitudinal axis

Page 2   Page 3   Page 4  Page 5   Page 6   Page 7

Toolroom and Engine Lathes  Pratt & Whitney Millers

A Catalog is available for the P & W Precision Lathes

E-Mail Tony@lathes.co.uk 
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Pratt & Whitney Lathes