LeBlond Regal Lathes are one of the most sought after used engine lathes in the US, for good reason. They are simple designs, easy to operate and easy to repair. They are a medium duty lathe, neither too light nor too heavy duty for general, all purpose machining. To further enhance their appeal, LeBlond Ltd offers wonderful support with documentation and parts available for most any age and model machine. For these reasons, the LeBlond Regal engine lathe is quite possibly, the worlds most popular general purpose engine lathe.
The simplest version, mainly sold in the 1950s and 60s, is the lever head design. In order to change speeds, the spindle is stopped and levers are moved into the proper position for the speed desired, while at the same time the operator rocks the chuck back and forth to ease the gears into alignment so no gear teeth are damaged, then re-engages the clutch. Changing speeds this way requires more operator involvement then the more modern Servo Shift automatic speed change mechanism, but has the advantage of almost never damaging the gear train especially when used by the machine owner (as opposed to a less careful or more impatient employee).
The Servo shift model, which came into favor around 1970, eliminated the gear change levers in favor of a speed dial. The operator pre-selects a speed and when ready for the speed change, moves the apron or headstock spindle control lever from run forward through neutral to brake, then the machine does the rest. This is what goes on when the Servo Shift changes speeds:
First, the electric clutch is de-energized so no power is transferred from the spindle drive motor to the spindle and the electric brake is energized, stopping the spindle/gear train rotation. Then, when all rotating motion comes to a stop, a device called the zero speed switch closes a relay in the control cabinet and a small electric motor starts to run driving a hydraulic pump, which then provides oil pressure to the servo shift slide valve assembly (located inside and just under the headstock cover.)
If a different spindle speed has been pre-selected with the round black dial on the headstock, hydraulic pressure is applied through the slide valve assembly to the servo shift piston and it attempts to move the shifter forks and the corresponding gears into mesh. On the opposite end of the small electric motor shaft is a nylon gear reduction train that is attached to the spindle brake housing by a link arm & eccentric pin. While the small electric motor/pump is supplying hydraulic pressure to the shift cylinder, this link & eccentric rock the brake housing/gear train/spindle through perhaps 10~20 degrees of arc, which allows the gear teeth to mesh. The operator needs to allow at least one full oscillation of the spindle before moving the spindle control lever back into the run position, but waiting 2 or 3 oscillations is better, to make sure all the gears have seat in their proper alignment.
At that point, the operator moves the spindle control lever back through neutral and into the run position, the brake de-energizes, stopping the spindle oscillations, the clutch re-energizes applying power to the gear train and the zero speed switch de-energizes the small electric motor/pump, all at the same time.
The Servo Shift speed selector dial on the headstock connects to the servo slide valve by a small shaft. The dial/shaft rotate a nylon gear that meshes with a rack molded into the edge of the nylon servo slide valve. When the dial is rotated, the slide valve is moved back & forth so that the hydraulic pressure (when applied via the zero speed switch/small electric motor/pump) shifts the proper gears into and out of mesh.
If this Servo Shift mechanism sounds complicated, its because it is. We find 90% of our LeBlond lathe repairs stem from failure of some part of the Servo Shift system, that said, almost all of the costly damage resulting from a failure in one of the Servo Shift sub-systems is preventable. Our number one cause of headstock damage is the failure of a 10 cent piece of wire going to the spindle brake. Due to the motion of the brake each time it is applied the wires going to the brake suffer metal fatigue and eventually fail. This wire breaking causes the brake to fail to stop the spindle and that, combined with a failure of the zero speed switch results in a clash of gears and eventually expensive damage.
If the operator is aware of all the things that are supposed to happen when the Servo Shift changes gears, he can detect a component failure in time to prevent costly damage, while it can still be fixed inexpensively while its still a minor electrical problem, and without having to opening up the headstock.
All that said, the Servo Shift system is like an automatic transmission for a car. While shifting gears manually may be fine for an experienced lathe hand, an apprentice or student will probably find the automatic version user-friendly, and more or less fool-proof.
Newer LeBlond lathes were built with replaceable hardened steel ways, both inch and metric feeds, inch & metric threading and inch metric dials. Other changes in newer models included a slightly larger spindle bore and sometimes a D type spindle nose, in place of the L type threaded spindle used on most LeBlond lathes. But remarkably, the machines have remained basically unchanged over the last 50 or 60 years - easily recognized as LeBlond Regals even when the paint colors were changed and the word Makino was added to the name. By the way, Makino slowly bought out the family owned LeBlond Machine Tool Company over a number of years in the early 1980s. Today, Makino no longer makes engine lathes, having exited that business in 1996, preferring to spend all their resources making CNC machines, but LeBlond Ltd has stepped up to take over the parts and service and is doing a great job keeping these wonderful lathes running.
9310 Garvey Ave. S. El Monte, CA 91733 (626) 444-0311
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