email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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W. W. Oliver Lathes


Founded around 1880 by William W. Oliver, the W.W.Oliver Mfg. Co. of Buffalo, New York State specialised in a wide range of tooling and accessories for the jewellery trade. Catalogues show that the earliest lathes were, after a few years in production, listed as the "1885 Model" and then, at the turn of the century as the "20th Century". From their appearance in publicity material it was assumed that W.W. Oliver lathes must have been a cross between the expensive, high-precision plain-turning bench type (as exemplified by Stark and others) and a cheaper machine for more casual use by amateurs and light duties in repair workshops. The discovery (in 2010) of a perfectly preserved bench model confirmed these suspicions - the machine being of the type described by the makers as their "speed lathe", in effect a glorified, if rather superior, polishing machine.
Still in the remains of its original japanning finish, and almost certainly dating from the first two decades of the 20th century, the example shown below is part of the Dennis Turk collection. Of generally light construction, the lathe has a centre height of about 3 inches and a bed some 36 inches long that allows 20 inches to be turned between centres. Running in plain, parallel-bore bearings, the headstock spindle carries a 1" x 12 t.p.i. nose with a No. 2 Morse taper socket and is bored to pass a 0.5-inch bar.
With just a single V and two flats, the bed carries a very simple, non-swivelling compound slide rest held down by a through bolt terminating in a (rather Boley-like) capstan handwheel. Unlike similar models from other makers, the bed's central slot played no part in the alignment of headstock, compound slide rest or tailstock - the single V of the bed being deemed sufficient.
Neither the 4.5 inches of cross slide, nor 2 inches of top slide travel - driven by 3/8" x 16 t.p.i. Acme feed-screws - are fitted with micrometer dials, though when new such machines were often used by turners able to wield calipers with such skill that surprisingly high levels of accuracy were possible using nothing more than a steel ruler to set them. Unlike the usual design of America "rocker" toolpost, the one on the Oliver (though it looks very similar) is constructed along very much more economical lines. There is no rocker (for the cutting tool to rest on) instead a thick washer is used, its top surface cut at an angle so that rotating it brings the cutting tool up to height.
Most unusually, the tailstock spindle (with a 7/16" x  10 t.p.i. feed-screw) has a No. 2 Morse taper (a No. 1 would have been expected) and, at 2.5-inches, a reasonable amount of travel.
Should readers have an Oliver lathe or other interesting tool by the Company, the writer would be interested to hear from them.
Frank Neal writes from the USA with some interesting additions to the W.W.Oliver story:
My late father purchased the W.W. Oliver Mfg Co. in the summer of 1957 or 1958. At that time they occupied the second story of a brick building at about 1483 Niagara Street on the west side of Buffalo. It was during a recession and business had slowed down quite a bit. I was about 14 years old at the time and I and my two older brothers helped my father with the moving. There was an S. A. Day Co. on the ground floor of the building and they are still in business at that location, manufacturing solder flux. The second floor was amazing to see. At one end of the building was a huge. old electric motor driving a large network of overhead line shafting which distributed power to the various machines. I remember seeing protective guards shielding the leather belts from the workers. There was a rigging Company known locally as Higgins. and I remember them taking a very large machine out of one of the second story windows - those Higgins guys were young and very muscular. My father did not buy many of the machines so we did not have too bad a time with the moving. The W.W. Oliver Mfg Co. was founded about 1880 or thereabouts. The Oliver Co. was engaged in making a variety of jewelery manufacturers' equipment including rolling mills (
pictures at the bottom of this page) that could be had as either hand or electrically-powered models A lot of the hand-powered rolling mills were sold to jewelers, dental labs, and dentists in North America - and all over the civilized world. In fact, one of their hand-rolling mills recently sold on Australian eBay. The Oliver Company also made small ingot molds (for gold), bench shears (this was a big seller), ring expanders, tongs (for holding crucibles) and some other equipment which escapes my memory. Of course, they also made small lathes. I honestly don't know the years that the latter were made, but I do not think it was a big seller for them and were eventually dropped from their catalog. My father continued the business on his own, as a part-time job until about 1980 or thereabouts, and I do remember him deriving a great deal of satisfaction from building the rolling mills (which constituted most of the business after 1958).
The founder of the business was a William W, Oliver, who became quite successful and built a large house on Richmond Avenue, for about $10,000.00, around 1905. I remember meeting a Mr. Oliver while we were moving and I believe he was the son of William W Oliver. He was a very nice, older man and dressed in woolen pants and light colored shirt with the sleeves rolled up ready to work. 
Very truly,  Frank Neal.

What may be a slightly earlier version of the Oliver shown above. Note the different detailing on the tailstock


An earlier Oliver maker's plate

The W.W. Oliver "Plain Foot Lathe" - a lightweight unit complete on a treadle stand and as offered in the early years of the 20th century

1892: another version listed by the makers as a "Jeweller's Foot Lathe"; the lathe weighted around 250 lbs and cost $45

A slightly heavier version of the Oliver "Speed Lathe" a 4-inch centre height by 20-inches between centres model with distinctive extensions to the outer section of each bed foot.

The essential compound slide rest. Priced at around $15 in the early 20th century. The cross-feed travel was 5 inches and the top slide 23/4"

Oliver hand-rolling mill


email: tony@lathes.co.uk
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W. W. Oliver Lathes