With a design, material and build quality that mirrored all other Wadkin products - enormously strong and with no penny-pinching short-cuts - the RS and RU series lathes were Wadkin's top-of-the-range line and built from the late 1940s until the 1970s. Although the Company made other, smaller wood lathes - the BZL, BXL, BL150 and the "Tradesman" for light-duty and training purposes - the RS, RU & RUJ models were intended for serious professional duty. As such, the latter types quickly established a reputation as reliable, robust, high-performance machines that could turn out all but the very largest jobs likely to be encountered in a medium-sized workshop. Built at the 20,000 square foot, Green Lane Works, in Leicester, they joined a vast range of woodworking machines manufactured in a thirteen-bay production and assembly plant that employed, in the early 1950s, over seven-hundred staff.
The RS was available with a choice of three centre heights: 6, 8 or 10-inches (152, 203 or 254 mm) that were able to take, respectively, work 42, 66 and 78 inches (1066, 1676 and 1981 mm) long. The bed was heavily constructed, with its flat top and vertical location surfaces hand scraped dead true, and fitted with a removable gap section as standard. With the gap piece out the 6-inch lathe could turn a diameter of 24.5 inches (622 mm) the 8-inch version 28.5 inches (723 mm) and the largest model 32.5 inches (825 mm); the wide of the gap was common across the range and allow a workpiece 12-inches deep (305 mm) to be carried on the faceplate. The massive headstock-end plinth held the drive system: a 1.5 h.p. 950 r.p.m. motor (common to all types) mounted on a hinged plate driving directly to the spindle through a flat belt over 4-step cone pulleys. A foot-operated lever was provided to lift the motor and so release the belt tension - a second headstock-mount control connected to a belt shifter then allowed the operator to change speeds with the minimum of effort. Although early models had a pexi-glass window fitted across the front of the headstock to allow a confirmation that the belt change had been properly made, this was soon dropped as the mechanism employed proved entirely effective and reliable. Either four or eight speeds were available, the latter number by the simple expedient of using a 2-speed, 950/1450 r.p.m. motor. The 4-speed range was 240, 600, 1250 and 2880 r.p.m. and the 8-speed 200, 320, 500, 750, 960, 1440, 1850 and 2880 r.p.m. From high speeds any lathe can take a considerable time to stop and one fitting incorporated as standard by Wadkin would have been very welcome indeed (especially to the man on piece-rate working): a spindle brake. Running in simple ball races the headstock spindle was arranged to take thrust in both directions - each end being threaded to receive a faceplate and with the inner bored to a No. 2 Morse taper, as was the tailstock barrel. The latter was also afforded the luxury of a proper split compression clamp and a good-sized handwheel with smoothed-edged spokes.
Unfortunately the spindle nose at left and right was altered over the years and, in addition, it is known that Wadkin would provide (within reason) any spindle thread the customer required, so allowing him to make use of existing faceplates and other fittings.
Although a bowl of decent size could be turned by removing the gap piece, even larger pieces could be produced outboard by using a balanced 18-inch faceplate and a tripod-foot, free-standing tool rest--the maximum size of job being limited only by the skill (or bravery) of the operator. Unfortunately, the cast-iron rest, unlike those from some American makers of similar lathes, did not have retractable wheels and so had to be dragged into place.
One popular accessory was a rack-driven carriage assembly, complete with a proper compound slide rest with a degree-engraved swivelling top-slide. The unit fitted to most models of the RS had a direct connection between the handwheel gear and rack - resulting in a rather rapid action along the bed - but the last models produced had a mechanism similar to that on the RU and RUH where (exposed) reduction gears that gave a much steadier and smoother drive.
Very much heavier than the RS, and sold with the option of a 12, 15 or 18-inch centre height (305, 380 or 457 mm), the massive RU was unusual (for a wood lathe) in having a sliding bed and all-geared, oil-splash lubricated headstock. The sliding bed was not just to provide a gap of adjustable width, its real purpose was to extend the capacity between centres without making the lathe unnecessarily long or cumbersome. The lathe was very robust, capable of prolonged hard work over many years without attention and able to accept up to 99 inches (2.5 metres) between centres. Mounted on a simple, adjustable plate at the back of the headstock, the exposed motor drove the headstock gearbox through multi V-belts running on short centres. A useful headstock spindle lock was provided - to aid the removal and fitting of large faceplates and other items - with this being electrically interlocked with the motor control switchgear to prevent inadvertent stating with it engaged.
Fitted as standard (though also available without to special order) the RU had a rack-driven carriage assembly similar to that on the RS but incorporating a reduction gear between handwheel and rack to give a more-easily-controlled and finer feed. One interesting option, and valuable on long-bed versions, was the availability of a power sliding feed. Although the arrangement was well engineered, the design of the initial drive boarded on the crude, with an exposed flat belt running over a 2-step pulley fitted on an extension to the headstock spindle. The drive shaft was in two parts, split at the headstock end and taken through a pair of speed-reducing gears to a slotted shaft that drove a crown-wheel and pinion assembly inside the apron. By means of two sliding pinion gears - one fitted at each side of the crownwheel - the drive could be reversed with a screw-in friction clutch to engage the mechanism. Unlike the quick-action cam-locked T-rest toolholder unit with its front-mounted handle used on the RS, the one fitted to the RU had a more powerful, though less convenient (loose-spanner) central-bolt fixing. Wadkin RU Photographs here
Although specialist, one-off and modified metal-turning lathes have often been pressed into service for really large diameter or long wood-turning jobs, an even bigger version of the RU was manufactured for these particular tasks, the giant RUH (H for heavy-duty). Although carrying the same type designation as the ordinary RU, and with the same bed section and upper tailstock casting, the H version was completely different in every other respect. Almost certainly the best built and heaviest regular production wood-turning lathe ever made, in addition to the expected sliding bed, the lathe featured a massively-built, 9-speed, all-geared headstock with the spindle running in Timken taper roller bearings with a double-thrust washer to take loads in both directions..