Clisby Lathe or, Why Kludge needs new glasses

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I recently purchased a Clisby lathe which arrived Saturday. The delightful lady (I did mention loving living in Hawaii, right? ;)) delivering that day handed me a box that would have done well to hold the bed of a watchmaker’s lathe and nothing much larger. Now, I realize the Clisby is considered the smallest lathe in the world but this small? Something wasn’t right by half!

I opened the box. In it was another box and a small Ziploc bag of bits and pieces. They were the extra parts I ordered, including the spare motors. Then I opened the other box which contained the lathe itself. My GOD (Sorry, boss.), it’s small! :eek:

Imagine, if you will, a Sherline shrunk down to a height of around 3-1/2”. That’s to the top of the headstock chuck, not the headstock itself. Imagine, if you will, one each 3-jaw scroll chuck and 4-jaw independent chuck with outside diameters of 45mm, those being the largest chucks that will fit. Imagine, if you will, a motor only slightly larger than the ones we used for racing 1/24 scale slot cars back in the 60s driving this machine. (The motor is a 5-pole rated at 12vdc, 4 amps.) That, folks, is a Clisby lathe.

Okay, why did I do this to myself when I already have several perfectly serviceable lathes already. For the same reason a Sieg C0 is in the offing; I’m curious what they’ll do with some serious TLC … and that’s not thrashing, lashing and caning! :D

First impressions – beyond the word “tiny” …

First off, it really does closely resemble a miniaturized Sherline, not surprising since the same gentleman, the late Harold Clisby, designed both. Everything threaded that causes something to move is threaded at 20tpi, a nice number that allows for some decently fine positioning for the cross slide and the tailstock poppet. While the photos at the website show it as coming with a single tool post, mine came with a double one – two tools, one post. Magnificent. (It uses 3/16” tools, by the way. This is somewhat a bother since all I have is 1/8” and 1/4” but I can fix that.) There are no T-slots in the cross slide which is a bit of a limitation but not enough to make me want to Do Bad Things to the Purple Brain. On the other hand, there’s enough room between the top slide and the spindle centerline that very well thought out accessories are possible and fabricated with what’s on hand – which happens to be 1/8” thick aluminum stock of the same flavor as the lathe. How convenient.

The swing over the bed is 2-1/2”. My watchmaker’s lathes can swing at least 3-1/3” over the bed. Even my SL-1000 can turn bigger. The Clisby can handle 4-1/2” between centers according to the specs. That I’m not so sure about but I’ll let it stand for the moment. All my other lathes can do better than that.

Downers …

Two things struck me right off. First, the cross slide has a hitch in its gitalong which appears to be from a slightly bent lead screw. The carriage is fine, just the slide has a problem. Second, the tailstock poppet adjustment handle has no retainer and has to be held in place when extending the poppet or the silly thing will come out instead. Okay, according to the Gospel According to Kludge, NO machine leaves a factory ready to run without a complete disassembly, inspection, reassembly (with lapping as required), complete lubrication and adjustment. I don’t know how it is with the big boy toys but even my factory fresh Taig got a teardown, inspection, reassembly, adjustment, lubrication etc. (I guess it’s a good thing I never worked for an auto dealership, isn’t it. ;D) This machine will get the full treatment during which time I shall correct it's oopsies.

Beyond that, after Mr. Clisby died, someone got the bright idea that outsourcing would be a Good Thing, during which time the headstock was changed from plain bushings to ball bearings. Now, if The Harold felt ball bearings were proper there, he would have designed it that way. He didn’t and it wasn’t. Meanwhile, the other half of the machine combo, the matching milling machine disappeared completely. In any event, the only remaining machine is the short bed lathe (The long bed even disappeared from spare parts.) and now the company’s closing its doors. Hopefully they’ll hold out long enough for me to get some spare parts.

The future …

Well, if I were to have a wild fantasy for a moment, someone would buy up the original tooling and put the machines back in production. They might cost more but they’d at least be available. It’s not going to happen, but it is nice to think about.

For my own machine, it will get the Full Treatment as described above during which time I’ll do what I can to repair the two problems noted. One of the things I bought was a pulley to replace the existing drive (single speed cog belt) so I can install a slightly bigger motor and a jackshaft to give me better speed control.* Right now, a variable speed controller will max it out around 1500 rpm which is fine for an upper speed limit. (It’s specs say it’ll do 4000 rpm but this will work for now.) What I’d like is smoother operation at lower speeds so a multi-step pulley like used on a watchmaker’s lathe (or a Taig) coupled with a PWM controller should help a lot. (Motor to multi-sheath pulley on jackshaft, jackshaft to lathe using something close to the existing ratio. This works, right?)

After all this, I want to make a compound/sphere-making top slide as well as a milling adapter since the mills aren’t available anymore and the cross slide bits are disappearing from their parts stock from which someone else already made one. After that, who knows. Tricking out a lathe that will be an orphan by the time I’m done does seem a bit of a waste of energy, especially for one so small. But it’s such a cute little bugger and I really do want to know what it can do when it’s all big citified.

Getting back to why, though …

I guess it’s become obvious that I like working on truly itty bitty things. Within the limits of vision (that’s MY limits of vision!), I enjoy pushing as hard as I can to shrink things as much as possible. (I described the .1mm holes & sheer pins elsewhere.) Ironically, this also works in making large projects since small detail pieces are even more important in them, especially when my sense of humor is working overtime. (I’ve been known to put things like the Klingon - which Word wanted to autocorrect to “Clinton” :) - “national ensign” hidden in plain sight. I am sooo bad! Or I’m that good, dependent on point of view.) Anyway, the Clisby is a “pocket sized” answer to my enjoyment of working small that will run from a motorcycle battery plus is a potentially neat project in itself.

One of the accessories I’m ordering in September is the woodworking tool rest since I can use it with gravers just as easily. Gravers are good. They’re fun. They’re great for very fine work. Plus I have a gazillion of them.

Best regards,


* My Unimat is getting the same treatment. Since I have two headstocks, the lathe one stays in place but I’ve never been really happy with all this belt changing and the whole “eight minutes on-two minutes off” thing. As a result, it’s getting a DC motor (Actually the motor on it is a universal which is much happier running on DC but that’s another issue.) and jack shaft with a PWM speed controller. This is a future project which will be somewhat amusing since I want to retain the ability to swivel the headstock.

Hi Kludge,
What Dc motor are you putting on it and what is a PWN speed controler?
I have a sick Unimat that needs a motor.
Thanks for the help.
pelallito said:
What Dc motor are you putting on it

The Clisby is small enough that I can get away with some of the surplus aircraft motors. They're actually 28* volt motors (for the most part) but run perfectly well although slower on a 12 volt controllable power source. Some have gearheads on them which make them even better since I won't have to do a massive reduction from somewhere around 10,000 rpm (22,000 rpm for a few Globe motors running on 28 volts) to make them work for me.

and what is a PWN speed controler?

PWM is Pulse Width Modulation. What this does is supply the motor with short bursts of full voltage rather than a variable voltage to control the speed. The speed is controlled by varying the pulse width from nothing to always on. The advantages are a lower starting speed and greater torque at lower speeds. The only disadvantage I've found is the need to build/buy the controller. They're pretty easy so building isn't out of the question even for the beginning solder jockey.

I have a sick Unimat that needs a motor.

What I'm giving the greatest attention to is either a sewing machine motor (no real power advantage & not reversable but cheap and available) or a watchmaker's lathe motor (a greater power advantage and is reversable but a bit less available and significantly more expensive.) Like the Unimat motors, these are both universal (ac/dc) motors which are essentially DC motors reworked to run on AC.

Okay, let's drop back a moment and discuss universal motors which I know wasn't part of the question but may help understand why I like them so much. Besides, I like the sound of my own typoing. ;D I promise I'll get back to the sick Unimat!

A DC motor has two important parts, the field magnet and the armature. Smaller ones use fixed magnets for the field while larger ones use electromagnets. Applying voltage to the armature of either type causes the windings to form mini-electromagnets on the armature pole pieces (those things that stick out that look a little like headsman's axe heads viewed end on) which are either attracted to or repelled by the field magnets. This causes the armature to turn.

A universal motor has the field attached to the armature brushes so whatever the voltage is doing coming into the motor will happen to both keeping the polarity the same and allowing it to turn in whichever direction it was wired for. A watchmaker's lathe has a switch that reverses the field wiring so the motor can be reversed otherwise it would be stuck like all the rest, only turning in one boring direction.

But keep in mind that a universal motor is a special case of a DC motor. It is happiest running on DC and, even better polarity doesn't control the direction of rotation unless you can control the field as well like with the watchmaker's lathe motors. So with a fairly robust supply of 115vdc and a slightly fatter PWM controller, universal motors become happy little machines ready and willing to do one's bidding. Not only that but somewhere around 70-90 volts (seems to depend on the motor itself), they'll be running pretty much like they do on 115vac.

For the more electrically inclined, being able to control the field and the armature separately is advantageous since bumping up the field current ahead of the armature gives performance closer to that of motors using permanent magnets. This means bringing out the field windings to a separate controller (a rheostat works more than adequately in this case) but that also gives an opportunity to make the field reversable which is pretty cool too.

Getting back to the sick Unimat, since I want to take the motor completely off the headstock and use a variable speed motor rather than the belt system, the two motors I mentioned will work quite well. One other possibility (which will seriously overpower it but better too much than too little) is to look around for an unwanted tread machine - the kind people like to use rather than taking real walks. Inside is a lovely and powerful DC motor and the controller for it which can be removed for any purpose that comes to mind. (This is what I have in mind for the Taig.) They aren't reversable as built but that's not an impossible situation. The same motor can be used to drive a jackshaft to handle other machines/accessories as needed.


Best regards,


* Aircraft DC electrical devices are rated at 14 or 28 volts while everyone else seems quite happy with 12 or 24 volts. This goes back to the reference point, the generator output on airplanes and the battery voltage for cars and other ground vehicles. Otherwise there is absolutely no difference and they are quite interchangeable.
I probably should have a bunch of questions, but I know almost nothing about motors! :-[
I was hoping that you would give me a model number and source for the motor and the PWM.
If you feel like expanding on your explanation, I would appreciate it. I feel that I am learning something new.
I don't even remember what the problem was with the original motor! I have to reassemble the motor and try it again. It has been packed away for long time.
Thanks for your help.
pelallito said:
I probably should have a bunch of questions, but I know almost nothing about motors!

I have a feeling you're not alone. As a result, I'm editing that whole discourse to move somewhere else where it's more appropriate. The Break Room? Maybe the Moderaptors can offer a suggestion. Let's see if any are reading this. :)

I was hoping that you would give me a model number and source for the motor and the PWM.

Let me see if I can scare something up since I tend to tinker inside motors & do my own soldering. (In this case, Eric. Things I can actually SEE! :D) Those two details sort of color my choices a bit.

If you feel like expanding on your explanation, I would appreciate it. I feel that I am learning something new.

Great! I hope others feel the same. Even though this place is all about injuns and injunearing, we still depend on motors to do our thing. I like DC motors since they are so delightfully controllable. But then, I also like steppers for moving things like cross slides around and they're DC motors too. Kind of. (I've never played with servoes other than for radio controlled airplanes so don't know a whole lot that's of use here.)

Let's see if someone suggests a place to move this discussion.

Best regards,

Hey Kludge,
How about a few pics of your new toy? ;D
Preferably containing something so we can appreciate the size.

two dogs said:
How about a few pics of your new toy? ;D

They'll be coming with some photos of some of my more favorite tools. :)

Preferably containing something so we can appreciate the size.

Like a quarter? That's doable. I think. I'll have to see if I have one left over from my pension check. :D

Actually, some of the shots will have a tape measure included for reference. That should give everyone a giggle. Maybe two. :)

BEst regards,

Clisby lathe pic's yet...?

Come on and stop the hula lessons and get the camera down!! ;) Iwant to see something really small...
mogogear said:
Clisby lathe pic's yet...? should hold you until I can shoot some of my machine.

Come on and stop the hula lessons and get the camera down!! ;)

I think I answered the thing about my dancing elsewhere. Suffice it to say, it is not a pretty sight.

I want to see something really small...

Then I guess I should find one of my Swiss Turns as well. They're pretty small and are a sort of lathe.

I'm clearing an itty bitty space to set up an itty bitty temporary work area so I can actually do things like build itty bitty engines (electric for now) rather than talk - or type if you're detail oriented - about them. Once that itty bitty work area is set up then I'll have somewhere to put the Clisby, the 8mm watchmaker's lathe and the watchmaker's drill press (with a 10 pound dumbbell to hold it in place since it will not be in a stable position otherwise) so I can make the engines out of watch parts and other itty bitty bits.

Do we detect a trend here? ;D

Best regards,

Don't know why but I thought of yu when I saw this.
More details at:
Gail in NM,USA

GailInNM said:
Don't know why but I thought of yu when I saw this.
More details at:

I love it! It's a me-sized machine!

My hands can (or could - haven't tried recently) span an octave and a third on a piano without bumping anything in between which irritated some of my teachers because I'd wind up using it rather than more conventional fingering at times. (One supported its use but that's another story for another time. Suffice it to say that learning classical music from someone who was a professional jazz pianist was interesting.) Those same hands love working with things that sometimes require vision aids to see. They sometimes get in the way but that's why they invented pin vises and tweezers.

Thank you, Gail. Now ... I wonder where I can find one ... ;D

BEst regards,


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