email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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H. L. Shepard & Co.
The "Sterling" and other lathes

If you have a H.L. Shepard lathe the writer
would be interested to hear about it


H.L. Shepard "Sterling" lathe

Manufactured in the United States by H. L. Shepard & Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, and introduced by them in 1919, the "Sterling" lathe was typical of the simple, economically priced general-purpose "jobbing" lathes offered in trade catalogues such as that issued by the well known English suppliers Burton, Griffiths & Co. Ltd. The market for such machines, from around 1890 until the 1940s, was automotive garages, bicycle, small repair shops and training establishments from around 1890 until the 1940s.
Overtly evocative names such as "Sterling" were used by a retailer (the names were often in parenthesis) to hint at an imported machine of hidden origin (often from continental Europe and the United States) -  but in this case might H.L.Shepard & Co. have received a significant order from London-based Burton, Griffiths & Co. and have named the lathe appropriately?
The firm of H. L. Shepard & Co. was founded in 1875 and then reorganized in 1898 as the
Shepard Lathe Co. with production of their lighter lathes using the brand name Shepard continuing, it is believed, the mid 1920s. As a point of interest, another Company with a similar name (and not connected with H. L. Shepard & Co.) was Shepard, Lathe & Co. a firm founded in 1845, as S. C. Coombs & Co.  Being a joint venture by Samuel C. Coombs, Russell R. Shepard and Martin Lathe - yes, he really was called Mr. Lathe… In 1853, when Mr. Coombs left, the Company was reorganised as Shepard, Lathe & Co. and then, in 1864, when Shepard retired, as Lathe & Morse.
Built along similar lines to the better-known Seneca Falls and South Bend lathes, although treadle powered and of simple layout, the 6.5" x 24" or 36" 'Sterling' was a soundly constructed backgeared machine with screwcutting by changewheels - a gearbox was not offered - that could generated pitches from 3 to 40 t.p.i. There was no tumble reverse to isolate the drive from the leadscrew and provide an immediate switch from right to left-handed threads - indeed, the generation of the latter appears to have been impossible, there being no mention in the literature, nor evidence in the illustration, that a stud was provided to mount the extra changewheel required. A thread dial indicator was "
arranged in conjunction with the apron handwheel, greatly simplifying the chasing of threads"; this meant that either the makers were hopelessly ill-informed about the realities of the rack-driven carriage and 15/16" x 5 t.p.i leadscrew remaining in synchronisation or, rather more likely (as on the Myford ML10 for example) the carriage was driven along the bed by a gear working against the leadscrew - a solution often used on light lathes, but one that must be questioned when employed on one of this weight and capacity. The leadscrew was slotted along its length to drive a (extra-cost) power cross-feed mechanism.
Of straightforward design, the headstock held a high-carbon steel spindle (with a 1.5"  x 10 t.p.i nose a slender 11/16" bore) that ran in white bronze bearings of "
large lead capacity". The bearings were carried on un-braced "posts" when many similar lathes had theirs stiffened by a raised front to the casting that rose to the centre of the bearing line. Strangely, despite the parsimony evident in other aspects of the lathe's construction, the headstock cone pulley held a set of epicyclic reduction gears within its largest diameter. The gears, which provided a reduction ratio of 4 to 1 against the more normal 6 to 1 of a conventional backgear, were engaged by a simple, exposed toggle lever and could be put into and out of mesh while the lathe was running. As a useful bonus (though the form of mechanism is not known) the spindle could also be stopped by moving the lever to a third position, a handy feature that allowed the very heavy flywheel to keep turning whilst adjustments were made to the job (the considerable amount of time wasted stopping a heavy flywheel and then bringing it back up to a working speed is one of the most serious disadvantages to any foot-powered lathe).
Because the carriage was arranged to run past the front of the headstock the 11-inch long saddle was able to be fitted with four equally-disposed T-slotted wings, so converting it into a perfunctory boring table. The cross slide was positioned exactly in the middle of the saddle, where it was well supported and the tool forces spread more evenly along the bed. As standard only a plain (cross) slide was provided, but a compound slide rest was available as an option.
Made, as would have been expected, in cast iron, the stand carried outboard of the left-hand leg a very large flywheel supported on a long pin that ran through both legs and which picked up power from each end of the full-length foot pedal. The length of the pedal was such that both left and right-footed operation would have been possible - or two long-suffering apprentices cajoled to stand side by side and provide sufficient power to cope with heavier jobs.
Heavily built, the set-over tailstock carried 1.25-inch diameter barrel with a No. 2 Morse taper and 1/16" ruler graduations.
Supplied as standard with the lathe were: a useful T-slotted faceplate, fixed steady, guards for the changewheels, a set of spanners and either the treadle stand illustrated or a wall-and-ceiling countershaft unit to accept motor drive. Amongst the options available were metric changewheels, a six-station capstan turret, draw-in collet set, power cross feed and a vertical milling slide. In basic trim the lathe weighed 500 lbs.
By 1921 H. L. Shepard & Co had moved from Cincinnati to Rising Sun, in Indiana,  and made some changes to their product line, though few details are available. What is known is that their top-of-the-range lathe was a gap bed "New Shepard" and the evolving Sterling was available as not only as a treadle machine, but also "
belted"  - presumably meaning driven by a countershaft -  or by single motor drive, possibly a reference to a built-on self-contained system. A major change was the dropping of the planetary reduction gears and substitution by "a completely enclosed gear head with a single-pulley drive."..

A heavier H. L. Shepard & Co. lathe - possibly of the "New Shepard" type, introduced in 1921.
An utterly conventional lathe and typical of its era - similar models being made by Seneca Falls and South Bend - it had a swing of 12.25" and was available with a choice of bed lengths to give 25, 36 or 48 inches between centres. Screwcutting was by a small, single tumbler gearbox with the changewheel drive incorporating a tumble-reverse assembly - this being better supported by being mounted against the inside of the left-hand bearings. In conjunction with a  15/16" diameter, 5 t.p.i. Leadscrew the box would have produced a limited number of pitches that are known to have ranged from 3 to 40 t.p.i. Fitted to the left-hand end of the leadscrew is what seems to be a dog clutch, the same design of mechanism appearing on another H.L. Shepard lathe shown in the colour photograph further down the page. Power cross feed was included in the standard specification, as was a proper compound slide rest assembly--this being fitted with the usual tiny micrometer dials common at the time.
Fitted with a 3-step cone pulley having diameters of 6", 4.5" and 3", drive was by a decently wide 2-inch flat belt from a clutch-equipped countershaft intended to be run (by a 3-inch wide belt) from a remote electric motor at 225 r.p.m. With  the 7 : 1 ratio backgear fitted 6 spindle speeds were available that spanned 25 to 425 r.p.m.
Bored through 1-inch clear, the headstock spindle was in carbon steel and ran in bronze bushes 1
9/16" x 21/2" at the front and 19/16" x 21/4" at the rear. Unlike the "Sterling" lathe with its slender headstock bearing posts, the headstock was well braced with the front wall brought up to mid line of the bearings.
Included with the lathe was a large, radial and T-slotted faceplate, a fixed steady, friction countershaft, backgear and changewheel guards and the necessary wrenches. Optional extras included metric transposing gears, a vertical slide, taper turning, a bed-mounted turret assembly for production work, draw-in collets and various form of motor and even foot-treadle drives. The makers also listed the machine with a geared headstock and motor drive (the motor probably being mounted on top of the headstock. However this version, like those made for a time to Seneca Falls in the early 1920s, might not have been a sales success.

A double-swivel milling slide by H.L. Shepard & Co.

Another H.L. Shepard lathe of around 12-inches swing

An earlier H.L. Shepard lathe with several distinctive features: narrow backgears, round-ended cappings on the front of the saddle and a set-over tailstock of unmistakable appearance


email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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H. L. Shepard & Co.
The "Sterling" and other lathes

If you have a H.L. Shepard lathe the writer
would be interested to hear about it