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
'c.1804' lathe at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
'c.1804' lathe at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
'c.1804' lathe at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
'c.1804' lathe at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
at the Henry Ford Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Vanice
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
Machine for cutting larger bevel gears, 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 making the blockmaking machinery at Portsmouth, and for his lathes, which spearheaded the industrial application of slide lathes and machine screwcutting. See Portsmouth Block Mills for more information on the blockmaking machinery.

His first known machine tools were produced for lockmaking, during his employment with Joseph Bramah from 1790 to 1797.

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. The earliest known example of a lathe with a triangular bar bed was made by Henry Hindley before 1758, and early lathes of somewhat similar design by other makers are not uncommon. Very few by Maudslay are known to exist. Maudslay's have certain distinctive design features, and display fine workmanship.

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. The former lathe was powered by hand, and generations of apprentices were required to produce screws on it. This is said to explain why it is 'opposite handed', with the headstock on the right: presumably most apprentices came, and left, with stronger right arms. The model screwcutting lathe is similarly handed and hand-powered.

The Science Museum's 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 a form 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, though, the carriage is held down by rollers pressing on the underside of the slideways. Another unusual feature shared with the Science Museum lathe is that it is 'opposite handed', i.e. the headstock is to the right of operator, contrary to later universal practice. This 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 the elegance of their details, with well-shaped, slender castings and forgings, all made with an insistence on very high standards of fit and finish. Massive construction was not a hallmark, though, and 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 shaping machine is unimpressive. It appears that the coarse setting of the cutter height demands the adjustment of the nuts on four threaded columns. The bedplate supports clearly point to Henry Maudslay's era. It is a great pity that we do not have a photograph of the other side, to see whether the machine had automatic traverse, and whether the stroke was adjustable. It was able to cut in both directions, using a rotating tool holder later revived by Joseph Whitworth. A point of interest is that James Nasmyth claimed to have invented the shaping machine or 'steam arm' in 1836. Maudslay's machine surely predated this. As W. Steeds points out, it is unlikely that Maudslay's works would have built their machine if something much better had been available from Nasmyth at the time.

Another interesting machine, with many typical Maudslay characteristics, is the boring and facing machine. In one mode it could be used with a boring bar supported by the tailstock. Aleration of the centre height required the work piece to be raised on packers, or for the auxiliary table to be raised on its jacking screws. The machine could also undertake facing (the article called it milling, but flycutting might have been more likely). The headstock could be traversed manually or automatically.

The bevel gear cutting machines may well be out of place here. One has what may be a recycled bed, while the other, for larger diameter gears, has a more modern-looking box frame. In fact the only typical Maudslay influences are in the design of the pulleys on the latter machine.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Engineering' 18 January 1901