Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Henry Maudslay: Machine Tools

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c.1800 screwcutting lathe by Henry Maudslay, displayed at the Science Museum
Maudslay lathe formerly displayed at Thinktank, Birmingham
Rounding saw, one of the M. Brunel/Maudslay machine tools from the Portsmouth Block Mills, on display at the London Science Museum. The pulley castings have a distinctively Maudslay shape, which can also be seen in the photo of the 'large lathe' below.
Lathe at Lambeth Works, 1900 (Engineering, 18 January 1901)
Lathe at Lambeth Works, 1900
Large lathe at Lambeth Works, 1900
Large lathe at Lambeth Works, 1900
Ball turning lathe, and part of lapping machine, at Lambeth Works, 1900
Lapping machine at Lambeth Works, 1900
Boring and facing machine at Lambeth Works, 1900
Shaping machine at Lambeth Works, 1900
Boring machine at Lambeth Works, 1900
Bevel gear cutting machine at Lambeth Works, 1900

Note: This is a sub-section of Henry Maudslay.

Henry Maudslay was the most influential machine tool maker at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries.

It is intended in this section to identify as many of his machine tools as possible. He became famous for the blockmaking machinery at Portsmouth Block Mills, and for his lathes, which spearheaded the industrial application of slide lathes and machine screwcutting.

His first known machine tools were produced for lockmaking, during his employment with Joseph Bramah.

Maudslay's Lambeth workshop became a 'nursery' for many men who would become famous engineers in their own right, and who would advance machine tool technology to its next phase, with machines of heavier construction and greater versatility.

Maudslay's best-known lathes featured triangular bar beds. Latter-day owners of similar lathes might hope that their's is a Maudslay. It is unlikely to be. Many other makers produced similar lathes, but Maudslay's have distinctive design features, and display fine workmanship. The earliest known example of a lathe with a triangular bar bed was made by Henry Hindley before 1758.

Examples of Maudslay lathes can be seen in a number of museums. The London Science Museum has on display an early screwcutting lathe and a model scewcutting lathe. A complete Maudslay treadle lathe is currently not on display. Photo here and here.

This c.1805 example in Australia, originally owned by Sir John Barton, is ascribed to Maudslay, Sons & Field. However, while the slide rest is fully consistent with Maudslay's design and construction, some other keys aspects, primarily the headstock and tailstock, are not Maudslay-like.

The Henry Ford Museum in the USA has two examples. One is a treadle lathe similar to that in the Science Museum's collection, but with the addition of back gear - an important development. The other lathe ascribed to Maudslay is larger. Like the smaller well-known screwcutting lathe in the Science Museum, it has a two-bar bed and a central leadscrew, and has a close family resemblance to that lathe, particularly in the detail of the carriage and the toolholders. Unusually, the carriage is held down by rollers pressing on the underside of the slideways. The lathe was gifted to the Ford Museum by Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. Photographs here.

Machines Photographed Following Closure of Lambeth Works in 1900

Staff from 'Engineering' magazine visited the works when its contents were about to be sold off, and reported on their findings[1]. Many of the machine tool photographs are reproduced here. Their inclusion does not necessarily imply that Henry Maudslay was involved in their design, although all the machines illustrated do have some Maudslayian features.

A characteristic of Maudslay's designs was their elegance, with well-shaped, slender castings and forgings, all made with an insistence on very high standards of fit and finish. His typical structures obtained their stiffness using slender ligaments and extensive cross bracing. This concept was not followed by his successors, who moved towards a more rational approach, with weight not being seen as such an adversary. The likes of Fox, Roberts, and Whitworth would adopt box-like bed castings, but we must also recognise that Maudslay did use shallow box beds with dovetail slides on some of his machines, namely the model screwcutting lathe in the Science Museum and the Portsmouth pin-turning lathes and facing lathes.

The typical frame castings, with their classical columns and slender bracing, may well reflect Marc Brunel's input to the Portsmouth blockmaking machinery designs.

The bevel gear cutting machine may well be out of context here, with its more modern-looking box frame. However, we do see Maudslay's influence in the design of the pulleys.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Engineering' 18 January 1901