This is the first of a series of articles that will illustrate and detail most Ward turret and capstan lathes from the 1940s until the 1970s.
A logical development of the basic backgeared and screwcutting centre lathe, the "turret" or "capstan" type made its first appearance in the mid 1800. Copied, refined and modified by numerous makers, by 1900 it had reached an advanced stage of development and (by then the ubiquitous production machine tool), was in widespread use by all developed countries.
In 1889 a group of engineers took over premises in Ladywood Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham and began manufacture of various kinds of industrial machine tools including drills, grinders and capstan lathes. Finding almost immediate success the enterprise became known as H.W.Ward and was to offer their first "combination" turret lathe at the Paris exhibition of 1900. A "combination" turret or capstan lathe is one where the turret head is not only mounted on the usual short slide, to give the necessary tool travel, but also carried on what amounts to an ordinary lathe saddle that allows much longer work to be undertaken. In addition, ordinary changewheel or gearbox-driven power feeds and screwcutting are easily included, so adding further to its versatility.
By 1895 Ward had moved their works to Lionel Street and, in 1908, became a Limited Company (or "Incorporated" using American parlance) allowing share capital to be raised and expansion undertaken. During the early years of the 20th century it was common for machine-tool makers to compete in as many market segments as possible, so diluting their expertise across many product ranges. In line with many other engineering concerns of the time, Ward decided, in 1912, to concentrate upon one speciality, in their case capstan and turret lathes and their associated tool holders, tooling and accessories. As a consequence of this decision, new premises were acquired at Selly Oak, Birmingham, in the heartland of the industrial Midlands - though as the new works were too small to cope with an ever-increasing demand for Ward products, the factory in Lionel Street (right in the heart of Birmingham, just two minutes from the Town Hall, was retained for a number of years.
As sales grew even further factory extensions were added in 1924, 1928 and 1932 and, then, to rationalise production and increase efficiency, an entirely new factory was built in 1936 at Blackpole, Worcester - works that were to be eventually increased in size to over 150,000 sq. ft. and destined to manufacture capstan lathes below the Number 7 in size together with tooling and accessories. Selly Oak, of a similar size, were then free to build the No. 7 and larger lathes.
During the 1920 increasing use was being made of very hard tungsten-carbide cutting tools, this leading to a demand for much stronger, more rigid machines able to take advantage of the new material As a consequence, beginning in 1928, Ward began redesigning their entire range of capstan lathes and incorporating heavier castings, improved alloy steels, stiffer ball and roller-bearing spindles, stronger and quieter-running ground-finished gears and shafts, generally larger bearing areas and wider bed ways together with improved covers to guard against the ingress of dirt and swarf. Bar-feeding mechanisms were improved and much work done to on work-holding and chucking systems with the adoption of electrical, air and hydraulic actuation. Swarf, with increasing rates of metal removal, became a real problem and modifications made to improve both storage and removal systems.
Although lathes driven by flat belts continued to be offered during the 1930s - many factories retained their old-fashioned overhead line shafting - increasing numbers of self-contained, geared head lathes were sold, these not only being more powerful but also able to be moved and grouped for best efficiency so that time wasted barrowing parts from one end of the factory to another was almost eliminated. By the mid 1930s a wide range of reliable, powerful lathes was in production that remained, in their basic form, largely unchanged throughout WW2 and on into the 1950s
By the early 1950s the Ward range consisted of two relatively small models, the 4-inch centre height OE able to take bar wok up to 1/2" in diameter, the long-established 5-inch 1A with a 1-inch bar capacity together with a range of larger, heavier machines for mass production consisting of the 2A, 3A and Nos. 7, 8, 10, 13, and 16 Combination types. In addition a "Hexagon" turret version was listed as the 7B, 8B and 10B. All models of the time are shown below together with their outline specifications.
Ward full-range catalogues printed until the late 1930s were usually in the form of comprehensive, hard-backed volumes that not only listed and illustrated the various models but also gave considerable information about their construction and operation. Typical was that for 1929 with 255 pages, beautifully illustrated, highly detailed with data about the various tools and accessories available and how they were to be employed. The catalogues were always given an edition number that matched the year of their publication hence, that for 1929 was listed as Edition 29 and that for 1950 as Edition 50, etc. Even the individual machine brochures were so numbered, with the style of these changing little from the late 1920s until the late 1950s..