McGraw Edison 7" Woodturning Lathe

And Other Lathe Stories

Edison 7-inch woodturning lathe

The lathe shown above was my first "real" lathe, purchased in the middle to late 1970's. It was manufactured by the now defunct McGraw Edison company, who made a number of inexpensive electric power tools. The first Edison "lathe" I had owned, in the mid 1960's was called a "Sabre Lathe" because of a built-in sabre saw (which made the machine extremely noisy and lots of vibration!). I don't consider it a "real" lathe because of the excessive vibration, too light-weight construction, and no spur center!

The 7-inch lathe shown was a big improvement in design, if not in implementation. There were manufacturing problems which resulted in serious axial misalignment in the horizontal plane, and one had to be aware of this in order to work around it in those situations where it would have a major effect.

Rear view of the packing box.

I used the Edison lathe to make my Uilleann Pipes, plus a blowpipe-stock for a new Naugahyde bag I had made for a Kennedy UP set belonging to another piper. I remember now I also made a rosewood "bagpipe goose adaptor", a reducing insert to allow a practice chanter to be inserted in a GHB bag. Aside from those projects, I believe the only other project I made on it was a rosewood and brass cigarette holder.

My "Big Iron" Experience

I did once, many moons ago, have a piece of "Big Iron". In the late 1960's, I attended the auction of the estate of the Avon Coppersmith in Avon, New York, while I was living in Rochester. I was able to bid on an old metal-spinning lathe, in the hopes of using it for woodturning, which I got for a bid of only $25.00! It had a 22" swing, and a 5-step flat-belt pulley with steps from 4" to 12" diameter, with the shaft running in babbit-metal bearings. It had cast-iron legs and bed, and there were large cast handwheels for tightening the spinning rest and the tailstock. It did not come with a counter-shaft or motor.

I was travelling with a friend and his dad in a Ford or Chevy van, and there was no way to carry the whole thing back to Rochester in one trip. We loaded the headstock, tailstock, and the collection of handwheels and threaded studs aboard the van; that weight alone was significant over the rear-axle! We drove everything back to Rochester, leaving the bed assembly standing alone outside the late coppersmith's establishment. Later that night, we returned to recover the bed. We found some wooden blocks and a fruit crate, and put these under the middle of the bed, and removed one leg. My friend then backed the van under the bed, we removed the supports and backed most of the rest of the way under the bed. We then removed the second leg and got everything aboard and returned to Rochester. I moved the legs down to the basement, where the rest of the parts were waiting. The bed itself had to wait until the next day. As I could not obtain help the next morning, I determined to get the heavy 6 foot bed down the basement steps, and built a simple ramp to slide the bed down. From there I walked the bed on end into the basement store room.

Over the next week I cleaned, painted and re-assembled the lathe. I had seen many old lathes in the Smithsonian, some of which were dark green, and I liked that color for a lathe so painted mine the same color, which has come to be known amongst woodworkers as "Grizzly Green", due to it's use on all the machine tools made by the Grizzly company. I shortly thereafter had to move out as the owner had sold the building, and the lathe ended up in a storage barn behind my next residence. I never did get it set up, so I sold it to a co-worker for only $50.00! Not too long after that, I learned from the local Triumph motorcycle dealer that he had just purchased a good used 10" engine lathe for only $75.00, from an automotive machine shop right next door to my new residence!

Early Lathe Experiences

My first desire for a woodturning lathe was as early as about 10 years of age; I saw pictures in the National Geographic Magazine of vase-turners in the Maldive Islands. They had a lathe that looked like it was made from one end of a baseball-bat; the piece to be turned was fixed on a screw protruding from one end, this spindle would be mounted in a rude frame, a length of cord, with stick handles at each end, was wrapped several times around the spindle, and the turner's assistant would pull the cord back and forth giving a reciprocating motion to the work piece. I actually tried this with a small log and a crude frame with a spike driven in each end, getting my younger sister to pull the cords! She tired of this quickly, however, so I only got a taste of turning. I wanted to be able to make things like bagpipes, cannons, other "cool" stuff.

My next woodworking experience was HS shop class.

I can remember that I had bought a Dormeyer electric drill set for about $35 at Hechinger's, and seeing a ShopSmith for the first time. By the time I got to High School, I had one of those Science and Mechanics or some-such magazine articles on how to make a sort of "mini-shopsmith" for your electric drill. I tried to come up with a project design for metal-shop class, but didn't know how to do it then, and the instruction situation was not good. Too bad I couldn't manage that, the other two metal projects (A set of Houdini handcuffs, and a levitation illusion) were just two ambitious for that time and place, and never were completed either.

Imagine a very well equipped set of shops, one machine shop, two wood shops, great machines, but NO actual course of instruction, just "Pick a project and make it" and we were turned loose on all those dangerous machines (3HP cabinet saws without guards, and I don't recall any anti-kickback splitters). I did discover by personal experience that the rip-fence isn't an immediate adjunct of the miter-gauge; I was cross-cutting a shorter piece of 3/4 walnut from a longer piece, using the fence as the measure, and no push-stick, while standing right in line with the cut-off piece; sure enough, right into the solar-plexus! Good thing it wasn't more than about 4" x 4"; that hurt!

In tenth grade, I got to use a wood-turning lathe, a nice Delta. I decided to make a Colonial spindle-table in cherry. I turned up the spindle without problems; those came with the legs, as the instructor did not know how to make dovetails; ALL the "shop" instructors were in fact athletic instructors doing double duty; they spent most of the class time BS'ing with each other in the shop office, just close enough to restore order when necessary, but they didn't teach a thing about woodworking!

As to the leg problem (remember, this is cherry, a VERY hard, tough wood), the instructor said to one of the other students "Here (so-and-so), show John how to attach these. The poor ignorant fellow student grabbed a doweling jig, and tried to bore a dowel-hole in the cherry with a brace and bit; I knew already what was going to happen, he twisted the point off the bit! I had seen this happen years before on Fitzfolly Farm when Mr. Fitzgerald tried to drill a piece of a cherry tree he had cut as a post for the new postbox/newsbox; he, too, had twisted the point off the bit.

I took all the pieces home, had them for years until I left the east coast in 1972, so that project never did get completed.

A New Spoke for and Old Spinning Wheel

My mother had bought an antique spinning wheel, which ended up left out on the front porch of our Seneca Road house. It was painted white, and missing the foot-tread, spindle and one spoke. I decided to make a spoke (interestingly, this was right around the time of the Kennedy assassinations; I was paint-stripping the wheel when the first uncertain news came on the television).

I took an old open-frame plant-stand up to my bedroom and put it next to the tall bookcase. Made a simple lathe frame from plywood scraps and 1X2 pine and a couple nails or bolts. I put a wooden yardstick on top the bookcase and weighted the end down with a pile of Wonder World books; tied a cord to the other end, wrapped around the spoke wood, and tied the other end to another piece of plywood as a tread and Voila! A pole-lathe. I think I may have broken several yardsticks in the process of making the spoke, but I did make it, and installed it on the wheel. I had delusions of making a spindle, but never did get hold of a plan, so never made a spinning spindle.

December 13, 2006