The Atlas Lathe

At the end of May, 2011, I purchased my first (and only) lathe. I had been learning how to use my mill and was eager to try my hand at other machining endeavors, and began shopping for a lathe. One good source advised me to buy a used Southbend (and I still consider this excellent advice). Another trusted source said that I would be quite happy with any of the small Taiwanese lathes being sold by ENCO and others. But I caught wind of a used machine for sale, made an offer that was accepted for the lathe (I got the lathe with 3 and 4 jaw chuck and a lot of tooling for $500) and am now busy sorting out what I have.

What I have is a Craftsman Model 101-07403 lathe that was made by the Atlas Lathe Company. This is a 12x36 inch lathe, meaning that the "swing" is 6 inches allowing 12 inch diameter objects to be turned, and the bed is 36 inches long. According to dates scribed on the races, it was manufactured in 1951. My lathe is serial number 32068 (the number is stamped on the top surface of the ways, right above the right lead screw bearing and support. Just for the record, the date stamped on my left spindle race is 8-14-51, and the date on the right spindle race is 5-10-51.

I was warned about several things even before I bought it. First, I was told that this Atlas lathe was among perhaps the worst lathes I should even consider buying. Second was that the gears and many other parts were made out of a zinc-aluminum alloy called "zamak". I was also told by the same fellow that told me all of these worrisome things that he once made a living as a professional gunsmith using one of these lathes. Also, I considered that the lathe I was looking at is at least 50 years old and still running; so those Zamak gears, though not what one would wish for, were still quite serviceable, and if I treated them gently, would likely serve me just fine if I didn't abuse the lathe.

Tubalcain says "all Craftsman lathes sound like a combine" (see this video), so don't be concerned if yours does also.

The zamak parts on this lathe receive a lot of criticism, and perhaps rightly so. On the other hand, the use of zamak serves two purposes. It makes the lathe lighter -- no small thing if you have to move a large lathe. They also make the lathe affordable, certainly at the time of manufacture, and still today. The gears were die cast out of zamak rather than being machined from steel, saving weight and expense. The thing to do if you are really concerned about this is to buy a Southbend. Or consider that the Atlas you are looking at has been running with zamak gears for over 50 years and with care will continue to do so.

Craftsman of course doesn't actually make anything, but is just the name Sears slaps on whatever products they arrange to carry in their stores. Atlas bought Clausing in 1950, and around 1969 renamed itself Clausing International. Amazingly Clausing still stocks and sells parts for the Atlas Lathes at their Service Center in Goshen, Indiana. Call them at 1-800-323-0972 or email at (I called them at 1-800-535-6553 on 11-17-2011, so the above phone number may be out of date.)

The Spindle bearings can be either Babbit metal (in which case the headstock has bolts with clamps that hold the bearings), or roller bearings (in which case the headstock is a single piece, no clamping bolts. Mine has roller bearings. Mine also has the "quick change gearbox", which is apparently an option, but which should be a great help cutting threads.

Quick Change toolpost

March 4, 2015

After getting my lathe running and using it for over a year, I began to hanker for a quick change toolpost. The big name in this department is Aloris, but one of those in a 5 piece set costs over $763 (and given that I paid $500 for my lathe including a lot of tooling, this seemed hard to justify). But there are decent knock-offs, including nicely priced imports. Grizzly tools sells two in the AXA size (series 100). One set (the G5689) for $245 and another (the presidents special T10166) for $140. The T10166 is a "piston action" type. The more expensive G5689 uses a wedge type grip, which people seem to prefer. The one review I found of the T10166 says it is fine. No doubt the Aloris would be worth the money in a production shop.

Some reading online suggested that Shar Tools was selling a set equivalent to the Grizzly G5689 for under $200, and that a set offered on Amazon for $137 was the same item. The unit is advertised as AXA or series 100 and interchanges tool holders with Aloris, Dorian, and Phase II. People are using this on a Grizzy 10x22, South Bend 9 inch, and even a Craftsman 12 inch. The seller is "All Industrial Tool Supply". Reviews are good, the price is right, and shipping with be free thanks to prime, so I placed the order -- Stay tuned.


Mine is set up with a 4L310 around the spindle and a 4L350 to the motor. It seems to work just fine. When the time comes to replace the spindle belt, I plan to use one of the segmented "twist-link" ("gap-twist" ?) belts. It really seems like the only sensible thing to do, since the alternative is to pull the spindle, which I never intend to do again. People say that these belts work well and are quieter than standard belts. The only downside is some added expense, which is more than offset by the convenience in not having to tear the whole machine apart to replace the belt.

Links and resources

The following are some notes and articles I have written, some with lots of pictures:

There exists a comprehensive 240+ page owners manual for the 12 inch Atlas lathe that includes maintenance and lubrication instructions, "probably the best instruction book ever produced by a lathe manufacturer." There is also a 61 page "supplementary" screwcutting instruction book as well as other documentation. I have had the instruction manual waved under my nose, but still am eager to get my own copy.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

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