Flather Model 14 Engine Lathe
Flather and Company, Inc., Nashua, New Hampshire
By Dan Eyring, Volunteer
The lathe on display in this exhibit is a Flather Model 14 Engine Lathe, introduced in 1901 by Flather and Company. The January 1902 issue of the industry trade magazine “Shop Talk” provides an overview of the Model 14's features and a high resolution lithographic image of the lathe you see in the exhibit.
The Flather Model 14 was also shown in an advertisement in the February 1902 issue of the engineering journal Machinery Magazine, as shown below. The ad indicates that, circa 1900, Flather was selling its lathes through a number of distributors. The lathe in the exhibit was sold through Hill, Clarke and Company of Boston, MA. “This firm was a maker and seller of "steam engines, pumps and boilers, iron and wood working machinery, shafting, belting supplies". It seems unlikely that they actually manufactured woodworking machinery, but theirs is often the only name appearing on the machines they sold.”
The Flather lathe in the CRMII collection utilized a novel means, a swing out shelf, to keep the lathe’s change gears handy for the operator. This is shown in the image above. Flather also sold a version of its lathes with quick change gear boxes, as shown in the image below, taken from the classic 1916 text "Modern American Lathe Practice", by Oscar E. Perrigo.
A quick change gear box operates very much like (and no doubt presaged) the manual transmission of an automobile, allowing numerous gear ratios between the lathe spindle and leadscrew to be easily selected by merely positioning one or two shift levers. If you would like to look over a Model 14 with quick change gearbox, there is one at the New England Textile Museum in Lowell, MA. The lathe was donated to the Textile Museum by Charles Flather, great-grandson of Joseph Flather, the founder of Flather and Company.
Flather investigated, patented and sometimes manufactured a variety of innovative lathe design innovations, including at least two implementations of a quick change gear box. An excellent description of the Flather single lever gear box
is provided in chapter 10 of Perrigo’s book, starting on page 211. Most competing gear box designs at the time required position two levers, a design that won out in the long run due to lower manufacturing cost.
Another even more unique Flather gear box design is described in US Patent 536,615 shows filed by Flather in 1895 envisions “gears [located] on short shafts arranged in a circle (pictured at right).
It is said that upon seeing this patent, Henry Ford was inspired to develop his planetary transmission concept for the Model T.
“Flather lathes tend to be a bit larger and sturdier than their 19th century competitors, a selling point at the time and an advantage today with the use of modern carbide tooling which tends to require additional stiffness and horsepower to drive it. Thus Flather has survived and is still useful even to the present day, although it can be a trifle slow for production work having been designed originally for carbon steel tooling, usually not a problem for the small shop or homeowner.”
For Further Information
If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of lathes and the different kinds of lathes, please try out some of the links bellow: